Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Higgs Boson Found

In around December of 2011, preliminary research efforts began to hint at the presence of a new bosonic particle with Higgs-like properties. It was officially announced on July 4, 2012, by the ATLAS and CMS teams working at CERN, that these findings were definitely signs of something important. Regarded as the key to understanding the origin of mass, even the spark that caused the Big Bang, the new Higgs boson's unique yet brief appearance quickly became the object of joyous celebration worldwide as the excitation ripples of a particle collision revealed a signal, measuring near the 125-126 GeV mass-energy range, that had finally brought into reality the standard model particle predicted to exist since 1964.

Results consistent with the expected signature of the Higgs boson (Image: CMS).

Out of the four fundamental interactions known to exist: gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force, it is believed that the exchange of a boson acting as a force carrier particle is what allows each kind of field or interaction to work. Just as the photon mediates the electromagnetic force, and the strong force gluon holds together particles inside the nucleus of an atom, the Higgs boson is responsible for converting Higgs field energy into corresponding elementary particles with mass.

Although fermions are the elementary particles that acquire mass to become the basic building blocks of ordinary matter, coupling with the Higgs field, an invisible energy condensate which permeates throughout everything and the vacuum of empty space, is also thought to give the weak nuclear force bosons: W+, W-, and Z, their exceptionally large masses. This process is due to a spontaneous symmetry breaking of the electroweak interaction, which sets apart the electromagnetic and weak forces, described to be unified parts of the same interaction only in an environment like that of the early Universe.

The level of certainty in this finding suggests that there is enough evidence to conclude a reasonably sound discovery. "A 5-sigma result represents a one-in-3.5 million chance of the result being noise. This is undeniable proof that a boson, with very Higgs-like qualities, has been discovered by the two detectors" (source). Along with being its own antiparticle, various other specific properties characterize the standard model Higgs boson, a few of which were accurately detected in the experimental results of this year. The recently found boson's rapid decay into the appropriate lighter particles, for example, serves as some evidence to label it the Higgs boson and to support the concept of the Higgs field. Future research efforts in this area may also clear the way for an new sector of physics entirely. "Supersymmetry provides both a natural context for the Higgs field and a possible explanation for the small but finite value of dark energy" (source). Known for its major innovations in modern science, the Large Hadron Collider's recent landmark achievement will serve as a crowning jewel for everyone who has patiently worked hard in anticipation of the new boson's arrival.

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