With particles now in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Cern, Switzerland, it seems a good time to talk about what the goals are, this article specifically on finding the Higgs.
One of the biggest goals in physical science today is to identify and prove the existence of the Higgs Boson, which is predicted by quantum theory, but has never been seen. If they find it, it should be the missing piece that makes Quantum Mechanics (QM) whole… currently there is an empty space in the theory.
Simplistically put, We don’t understand why a particle has a certain mass – almost everything we see has mass except pure light. But in QM computations, many particles must be massless… we know that’s wrong! The calculations predict that there is a Higgs Field which these massless particles must pass through – it is essentially everywhere, and interaction with the Higgs boson – the particle component of the Higgs Field, is what gives mass to those assorted massless particles.
So, it’s a pretty important thing to find. Fermilab (another collider) in the US has been trying to find it, but so far no luck. The new and bigger LHC is definitely capable of identifying it, IF IT EXISTS. It could/will likely take some time, perhaps years, certainly, because in theory, the Higgs will be very difficult to produce (1 in millions) and recognize.
How does it work? Well, the LHC is huge – 27km in circumference – a massively constructed circular tunnel running deeply under three countries. The ‘tunnel tubes’ are surrounded by unbelieveably powerful magnets which basically bend the paths of the particles (specifically, hadrons) which are fired in two opposite directions so that they speed around the circle, instead of straight ahead. There are ‘stations’ along the path where scientists can direct these particles which are moving just under the speed of light, to collide with each other. Hence the name: Large – hadron – collider.
When they collide, they produce – for an incomprehensibly short time only – some of the conditions of the universe in the very first moments after the big bang. The particles produced disappear far too fast to be seen and/or utilized, BUT astoundingly, we have the capability to record the trails these particles make as they come into and go out of existence.
Every type of particle has its own special trail/behavior style. Scientists already know what the path from a Higgs will look like! So it’s a matter of producing many, many, many collisions and then examining the vast amounts of data to locate the Higgs. IF it exists.
What if it is not found? Scientists believe that if they do NOT find the Higgs with the LHC, then it doesn’t exist. In some ways that would be the more fascinating result, since then they must backtrack and re-examine all of quantum mechanics, particle physics and possibly even rework General Relativity! Either result is exciting…
For more information for the non-scientist, here are a few fabulous links:
My personal favorite: The Particle Adventure. http://particleadventure.org/index.html – In my mind, one of the very best explanations I’ve ever seen, done in a cartoon style but don’t think for a second that makes it fluffy. You can spend days on this site, learning. It’s divided into sections depending on your knowledge.
For shorter bits:
The CERN website: http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/Science/Higgs-en.html also CERN-TV on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jup2R9Jtnc
SciAM: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-exactly-is-the-higgs (oldie but goodie)
Wikipedia page – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_boson
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Fg16j5hbvY&NR=1&feature=fvwp and there is a long list of other videos on it. Don’t know how good they all are, but you can check them out. Watch ones by scientists, of course!
NOTE PLEASE - I am not a scientist, I just love this stuff. If you are knowledgeable and see that I have made any errors in the above, PLEASE correct me and I will correct what I’ve said.