Happy Birthday Higgs Boson!

Ethan Wong

July 04, 2023

Today marks the detection of a remarkable piece of science that will continue to revolutionize the unknown history of particle physics and the mystery behind the Big Bang theory. This great scientific encounter is referred to as “The God Particle”, given due to its differences from other discoveries captured by the Large Hadron Collider, and also its pure value to the fundamentals and comprehension of physics. With the 11th anniversary of the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, which was first observed on July 4th, 2012, it’s important to take a look at the breakthrough itself, along with the machine that found the groundbreaking discovery.

The Higgs Boson was discovered by the Large Hadron Collider, but how is it related to space? In simple terms, the Big Bang started and many massless particles were expelled from the start. These particles flew through space and collided with a field, known as the Higgs field. This theory was proposed by Robert Brout, Francois Englert, and Peter Higgs. The system discussed how the Higgs field is the fundamental plane in space that allows particles to gain their masses by interacting or associating with the Higgs Boson particles, which is an excitation of the unseeable field that exists in space. While particles such as photons don’t interact with this field, resulting in their absence of mass, particles such as quarks gain their mass by colliding with the Higgs field. The more powerful an interaction is will determine the mass that a particle receives from this process. A strong example that conveys the concept of the interaction of the Higgs field and particles was told by Neil deGrasse Tyson, who mentions how famous celebrities at a Hollywood party would be given more attention than a random stranger–this “amount of attraction” could portray particles as they receive their mass based on collision. While a random stranger wouldn’t attract much attention (low mass) or no attention at all (photon), a well-known celebrity could be given tons of attention; this represents particles gaining their masses and not all having an equal mass. Because of their work on the Higgs field, Peter Higgs and Francois Englert were awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics. 

The Higgs Boson was also a key factor that helped prove that electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force were unified as the electroweak force (I will try and explain this despite my stupidity). When the universe began, there were four fundamental forces that were unleashed–one by one–after the Big Bang. Gravity was one of the first forces to become independent and can be observed on Earth through any human-object interaction. Strong nuclear force was another force that was released, which helps keep protons and neutrons bound to their nucleus, keeping particles stable and its insides secure. The other two forces are electromagnetism, responsible for light (mediated by massless photons), and weak nuclear force, responsible for particle decay/radiation (mediated by the W and Z bosons). Mediated can kind of be represented by the particles helping to exhibit and carry these forces. Sheldon Glashow proposed a theory called the electroweak theory where all of the bosons that mediated from the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism were massless, which could unify the two forces. However, Glashow couldn’t comprehend a mechanism that would allow for the photon to remain massless while the other three bosons would gain mass (weak nuclear force). In 1964, the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism (above) was developed that explained how particles could receive mass with the Higgs field. This allowed for the foundation of the electroweak theory to be established in 1967, as Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg combined both systems to unite electromagnetism and weak nuclear force, explaining the “passing” of mass. The 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics was then handed off to the esteemed physicists: Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam, and Steven Weinberg. 

Spanning 16.7 miles in length through the borders of France and Switzerland underground, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is one of the most impressive builds targeted toward scientific research. It uses 1232 magnets to connect the vacuum pipes, forming the iconic ring shape. The innovation is used to send protons around the circle at 99% the speed of light and collide. To allow the Large Hadron Collider to function and accelerate these protons, the temperature must remain at -273 degrees Celsius, lower than the cold temperature in space. With these different factors working together, scientists have and still hope to unravel the answers regarding the universe and the Big Bang. 

So how do scientists detect the Higgs Boson particle using the LHC? While it might seem easy to spot, the Higgs particle doesn’t “last” long enough for the detectors to pick up its existence before it decays into two photos, traveling in opposite directions; moreover, instances are abundant where the outcome of a collision in the LHC system will result in the decay and travel of two photons. Essentially, the detectors would calculate the mass of the energies that are carried by the photons, allowing it to add them up to find the mass of the Higgs Boson particle.