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Higgs had a good idea about bosons

Peter Higgs, a pretty dour Scot, is given credit for suggesting that there may be a particle, yet unknown, that might complete what is now known as the Standard Model of bits and pieces of which we are made.

Peter Higgs, a pretty dour Scot, is given credit for suggesting that there may be a particle, yet unknown, that might complete what is now known as the Standard Model of bits and pieces of which we are made.

That means pretty well all of the matter, of which the earth and a lot of our universe is made. Peter Higgs made the suggestion back in 1964 when a lot of us were young and foolish.

He was young, but apparently not foolish: he had his mind on very weighty ideas. He and really only about three others were trying to figure out why there seemed to be a gap in our knowledge of the structure of ordinary matter. A lot of very complicated ideas were being tossed about in the physics literature. 

However, of all these ideas, only Peter Higgs suggested a particle as the answer to the problem, and that particle became known as the Higgs Boson. Finding the Higgs Boson became a dream for thousands (yes, thousands!) of physicists for close to half a century.

In 2012 when the Higgs Boson was finally found, Peter Higgs was 83 and still teaching at a summer school in Italy. When he was invited to the announcement in Geneva he asked to be excused. He was all out of Swiss Francs and his medical insurance had run out. Besides all this, the beach in Italy was very lovely. You can understand his predicament.

You can’t really have the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs Boson without Peter Higgs, when he was both alive and in the approximate vicinity. A friend and admirer convinced him that he really ought to be there and from that point on preparations for the announcement went swimmingly. In fact, hundreds of young physicists were camped out near the auditorium just to get a seat for the wonderful moment when the announcement was to be made.

In this short letter it is impossible to convey how incredibly complicated and colossal the devices used to discover the Higgs Boson are. They are part of the circular particle accelerator just outside of Geneva. The detection devices are so enormous that a man standing in them looks more like an insect. We are truly insignificant. And these huge devices are used to detect something so small, it is part of a part of an atom. Isn’t physics wonderful?

Let me introduce you to the Standard Model of particles making up ordinary matter, the stuff you and I are made of. It is a bit complicated, but if you think about it, probably not more complicated than the Periodic Chart of the Elements, which most of us studied in high school.

All the stuff around us and, of course, ourselves, is constructed out of two kinds of particles which physicists call either bosons or fermions. Bosons are a bit weird because they can be stacked, one on top of the other, but regardless of how many, they are still only one boson high. If such an idea as dimension applies, only two (length and width) hold for bosons. So if you stack a thousand Higgs Bosons, they are still only one boson tall. That is only if there is such a quality as tallness among bosons.

There are quite a few bosons, most of which carry a force. Photons, the particles of light, are force bosons. Like all of these particles, photons constantly change from being a particle to being a wave. So light interchanges from being a particle, which can bombard your skin, knocking off bits and pieces, causing a sunburn or it can be a wave.

Gravitons are the gravity particles. They are, so teeny, tiny, and so weak relative to the powerful photons, they haven’t been found yet. But particle physicists are not worried about that, at least not yet. They know that they exist, otherwise how come we tend to stick to the earth below us. Oh, well. You gotta have patience.

The knowledge is coming. Another rather interesting boson is the gluon, aptly named because it is endowed with the powerful forces that literally glue the nucleus of every atom together. Without gluons we would have quite a mess.

Fermions, on the other hand, always have three dimensions if they have dimensions at all. Quarks are the fermions that make up the structure of protons and neutrons in the nucleus of every atom.

Electrons are also fermions, which are so incredibly small it is difficult to even think about dimension. Electrons have a couple of relatives, sort of bigger brothers, muons and taus. Then there is the relationship between these three, electrons, muons, taus, and neutrinos. All three team up with neutrinos to form electron-neutrinos, muon-neutrinos and tau-neutrinos. I am sure you get the idea. Particle physicists wax lyrical when it comes to naming the different kinds of quarks.

There are up-quarks and down-quarks. Among the up-type quarks, there must be top-quarks and, surprise, surprise, there are, in the middle, charm-quarks. Isn’t that a nice name for a quark. Among the down-type quarks, there have to be down-quarks and, certainly, bottom-quarks. In the middle, the wonderfully creative and fun-loving particle physicists called the middle down-type quarks, strange-quarks. Now that is the sort of thing that makes physics fun. Now, there is no such quality as colour at this level.

Colour is attributed to different sizes of photons striking your eyes so it has nothing to do with quarks. Nevertheless, fun-loving particle physicists say that each kind of quark also comes in three colours: red, green and blue.

Just a moniker, not a real colour. So there you have it, just add a couple more bosons, the less important W-boson and Z-boson and the standard model is complete. Oh yes, they still have to find the X and Y bosons.

Physicists have to leave something to keep them busy, so keep tuned: the discoveries will come, even though these bosons are probably not very important. If the X- and Y-bosons are not particularly important, why all the fuss about the Higgs boson?

The first idea the reader must keep in mind is that the Higgs, like all of these particles, is constantly changing between a wave-field and a particle. The wave-field configuration is the most active and functional.

The Higgs is also very unstable. It can decay into almost exactly two photons or a flash of light. It is also considered important because the Higgs can and does convey mass to other particles. In several ways the Higgs is considered to be a bit of a messy particle because lots of activity often leads to the unexpected. Physicists like particles to be neat, clean, and predictable. The Higgs is not.

There are also many physicists who believe that the Higgs may be the gateway between ordinary matter and dark matter and energy, which make up by far the most matter and energy of our universe.