Tag Archives: particle physics

The Higgs Boson: explained!

For those not clear on the Higgs boson (what it is, what it’s for, and why), it’s explained here. Sort of. A little.


(Thanks to my S207 forum for that one!)



Well, this is incredibly exciting! The scientific community has been searching for this for more than 45 years – and today, CERN has announced the discovery of a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson.

There have been a few premature shouts of excitement in the past couple of years, but an analysis of the data sets shows a level of certainty that allows the teams to announce the new particle. This level of confidence is at the five-sigma point.

In simple terms, this means that the chances of observing the results they have if there is NO Higgs boson stand at around 1-in-3.5 million. Which is pretty close to saying they’re 100% sure.

Here are a few vital statistics on the new particle:

  • Mass = 125.3 GeV (gigaelectronvolts)
  • 133 times more massive than a proton
  • The particle decays into photons, Z bosons and W bosons
  • Gives matter mass
  • Holds the fabric of the Universe together

Don’t underestimate how important this discovery is. It’s a giant step forward in our understanding of how and why our Universe works. I think it is exceedingly unlikely that this will not prove to be practically useful; but even if it is not immediately practically useful, the discovery is fantastic. Amazing. Awesome!

Taking another step, walking over the next hill, is vital in our journey. Look at how far we’ve come in the past few hundred years. Who knows where we’ll be next? I’ll be watching closely. Will you?

A billion billion billion billion billion times bigger…

Book 7 of S104: Exploring Science is entitled, rather niftily, “From Quarks to Quasars”.

Quarks are the smallest things of all, the fundamental constituents of the Universe, measuring 10-19 m across; quasars are the most distant objects we can observe, and are around 1026 m away.

There’s really no way to get your head around these extremes of sizes; suffice it to say that quasars are a billion billion billion billion billion times larger than quarks. Even analogies are impossible. Imagine a marble and a… no. There’s nothing big enough. Or far away enough. Imagine a marble and something MUCH further than a quasar?

“Common sense is the deposit of prejudice laid down in the mind before the age of eighteen.” Albert Einstein

Well, leaving aside ludicrous quantities of billion, cosmology is the study of the very, very large and particle physics is the study of the very, very small. This aspect of the module combines both of these studies into one neat package, and that package helps to answer the fundamental questions:

  • How does the Universe behave?
  • What rules does it follow? Or is it an anarchist, breaking glasses, listening to the Sex Pistols, and throwing sofas out of hotel windows?
  • How does the Universe change with time?

I’ll get back to you on those when I’ve worked out the answers. Quantum physics will help.

In the meantime, here’s a philosophical take on the very, very small by those reknowned poets, They Might Be Giants:

Looking at the nature of the Universe takes you outside of the everyday into the realm of the fascinating, the baffling, and the just-plain-weird. Particles that are in two places at once; antimatter; eleven-dimensional space-time.

“If quantum physics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” Niels Bohr

Hang on to your hats, because Kansas is about to disappear…