Higgs Boson: A Smashing Discovery!
[Editor: Over summer, the scientific world was rocked by the announcement of the discovery of the elusive Higgs Boson particle. Be sure to read the two-part article by one of our Young Editors!]
Nearly a 100 meters beneath the surface of the earth lies the biggest experiment in physics, known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The collider has been in news recently as a fundamental breakthrough in particle physics was announced by researchers in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Higgs boson (read here) has been the subject of a 45-year hunt to explain how matter attains mass. On 4th July, 2012, the scientists were rewarded for their hard work. A Higgs boson-like particle was spotted in the LHC!
Large Hadron Collider
Since the Higgs boson particles can only be created at very high temperatures, and exist very briefly before decaying (disappearing) into smaller particles, scientists had to recreate conditions that would have existed at Big Bang. Enter the Larger Hadron Collider (LHC).
The LHC was built by CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) with support from over 100 countries. The project is housed in a 17 mile (27 kilometer) underground tunnel at the border of France and Switzerland. The LHC is the largest and most powerful particle accelerator - that is, it boosts the energy of particles to almost the speed of light through the use of superconducting magnets and accelerators.
The goal of the experiment is to make two beams of particles go in opposite directions at the speed of light and collide with each other at four points in a circular tunnel. Thousands of new particles are produced when particles collide and detectors, placed around the collision points, allow scientists to identify these new particles by tracking their behavior.
Why is this significant?
The scientists saw a bump in their data, which suggests the existence of a new particle, slightly heavier than a proton of an atom. By comparing data, they discovered a ﬁve-sigma level of certainty -- this is equal to tossing a coin and getting heads 20 times in a row. Such a situation, is more than just a coincidence, thus making it an accepted discovery. This particle is said to be the reason energy turns into mass, and keeps matter together like glue.
Prof Peter Higgs wiped a tear from his eye, and said, “Itʼs really an incredible thing that has happened in my lifetime.” Many scientists mentioned that while this is a historic milestone, it is still the beginning of more study and research. This hunt for the Higgs boson has been compared to the Apollo program that reached the moon.
All matter we see, comprises of just 4% of the universe, and the rest is made up of mysterious dark matter. The discovery of a Higgs-boson particle can help us understand what 96% of the universe is made up of. It could also be a key to unlocking the secrets of traveling faster than light and teleportation!