|Every object we see or touch is made up of matter which
has mass (it weighs something)and all matter is made up of atoms. In turn,
are made up particles, electrons, protons,
So,if all matter has mass and all matter
is made up entirely of particles, that must mean that particles have
Yes and no
In the physical world, they do have mass - the lightest particle is the electron
and the heaviest is the top quark. Unfortunately, on paper they don't have
mass. According to the 'standard model' - a theory devised to explain how
sub-atomic particles interact - all elementary particles were created in
the Big Bang
with no mass at all.
So on one hand, we know particles have mass and on the other, we know that
they can't have mass?
To explain this paradox a physicist called Peter Higgs proposed that everything
is permeated by a field similar to the electromagnetic field. As massless
particles travel through this 'Higgs field' they interact with it and appear
to acquire mass - the greater the interaction, the more mass they will appear
So where does the Higgs boson come in?
Well, we know from quantum theory that every field has an associated particle
(electromagnetic fields have the photon) so there must be a particle associated
with the Higgs field. This theoretical particle is called the Higgs boson.
Finding the Higgs boson would prove that the Higgs field exists, explain
how particles with no mass can make up matter that has mass, and prove that
the standard model is correct.
It exists only on paper an intangible idea plucked from the ether by a scientist
seeking a solution to the unsolvable - yet it has been called the Holy Grail
of particle physics. Its discovery could provide answers to some of the most
important questions about life the universe and everything, and guarantees
a Nobel Prize to those who find it first. The Higgs boson as it is known,
is an elementary particle that remains the only undetected element of particle
physics' theoretical masterpiece: the 'standard model'. Finding the Higgs,
then, is pretty big potatoes.
Millions of pounds and the collective intellects of thousands of physicists
have been spent constructing massive machines, called particle accelerators,
designed to smash atoms into their component parts in the hope that the Higgs
will pop out.
The newest of these is due to start 'operating next year. Called the Large
Hadron Collider (LRC), it has cost the EU more than £4billion and will
be the most powerful such device every built. But what if someone has already
In recent weeks, a rumour has been flying around physics departments and
the Internet that researchers working at Tevatron, the largest working
accelerator, located just outside Chicago, have done just that.Which would
be 'very bad news indeed for the LHC as its reason for existing - finding
Higgs and confirming the 'standard model' - will have been taken away overnight
and billions of pounds will have been pretty much wasted. But why the fuss
over something so mundanely named as the standard model'?
Well. the theory attempts to understand how the smallest building blocks
of nature - particles - interact to enable them to create you, me and everything
in the universe. The theory seems to work in almost all its aspects except
when it comes to explaining what gives particles their mass.
Some particles, like photons, are massless; yet others are quite heavy.
Unfortunately, according to the standard model', they should all have no
mass at all. The Higgs boson was proposed as a way to explain away this problem.
So, should Tevatron confirm the rumours (which could happen in the next few
weeks) it would not only steal the LHC's thunder but also its reason to exist.
Because if the Higgs boson were proved to exist and if it fitted the requirements
of the 'standard model', there wouldn't be much left for the LRC to find.
In fact, the 'standard model' predicts that, in order to find anything new,
you would need a collider roughly a quadrillion times more powerful than
the LHC - that would mean a machine with a circumference of the Milky Way.
You really do have to think big to find small.
|How will they find it? By hurling
two beams of protons around the 27km ring and smashing them together at close
to the speed of light. These sub-atomic particles collide at energies that
cause the laws that hold them together ('the standard model'} to break down,
recreating conditions that existed less a billionth of a second after the
Big Bang. Detectors will then trace and analyse the particles that emerge
from the collisions in the hope that somewhere among them is the Higgs