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The God Particle- What Is It!!
The 4th of July is an important date in the history of science. Not only will it be remembered as the American Independence Day but also as the day when the search for an elusive sub-atomic particle ended with the discovery of “The God Particle”. Scientists at CERN, Switzerland have spent over 40 years and over $10 billion in search of this particle. The particle, at one point which theoretically existed, is now a reality.
So what is all this hoopla about the god particle or the more scientific “Higgs Boson” particle?
Higgs Boson – The God Particle
First of all, let us see what in the world this “God particle” is. Once we understand it, we can understand its significance.
God particle is the nickname given to a subatomic particle, also called the Higgs Boson particle. To elaborate, there are various subatomic particles such as the protons, neutrons and electrons which determine the various properties of matter. The standard model of particle physics predicts that there are subatomic particles smaller than the proton and neutron that contribute to the forces that cause various matter interactions.
Now, every 5th grade school kid knows that one of the most important properties of matter is its mass. We also know that protons, neutrons and electrons have their own mass, while particles such as photons do not. Scientists were not completely sure why some particles appear mass-less, while some are massive. The Higgs Boson particle is the particle which is believed to give these subatomic particles and in turn, matter its mass.
Peter Higgs, a British physicist proposed the presence of this particle way back in 1964, hence the name Higgs Boson. Though this subatomic particle existed in theory, there was no experimental proof that such a particle existed. Scientists spent billions of dollars and over 40 years to confirm the existence or non-existence of this particle. The experiment was undertaken at CERN in Switzerland using a large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator.
Significance of Higgs Boson
Undoubtedly, discovery of a subatomic particle that imparts mass to all matter is a corner stone in the field of physics. However, there is another reason why this discovery is significant. This god particleis considered the last, missing link in the highly successful quantum theory, called the Standard Model. The particle is highly elusive and unstable. One has to observe many high energy collisions of protons to observe it and build up the statistics. The particle exists for just a tiny fraction of a second before it breaks up into many other particles. It can be detected only indirectly by observing the results of immediate decay and analyzing these results to show that they were probably produced from a Higgs boson particle.
This discovery has excited not only particle physicists, but also cosmologists. They seem to agree that all the luminous matter out there in the universe makes up only 4% of the universe, and the rest of it may be in the form of dark matter and an exotic dark energy. And if this “Higgs-like” particle turns out to be of a more exotic form, it can help us in understanding the dark energy.
Interesting tidbit about Higgs Boson
Here is an interesting tidbit about the Higgs Boson particle. You read that Dr. Peter Higgs was the first person to propose the existence of this particle, hence the name Higgs Boson. However, ever wonder why the “Boson”? Boson is a particle in particle physics governed by Bose-Einstein statistics. The name boson was coined by Paul Dirac, an English theoretical physicist to commemorate the contribution of the Indian physicist Dr. Satyendra Nath Bose.
The God Particle??
Everything is alright, but why the name “God particle”? It is quite funny to see that this particle has nothing to do with religion. Dr. Peter Higgs himself is an ardent atheist. The scientific community too is not particularly amused with this name though they seem to like the publicity this phrase is making. The nickname actually arose after the publishing of the book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? Since this book was out, it took a life of its own, partly because of certain questions about matter this particle alone may be able to answer.
No one knows what more properties the God particle has and if it all it has the properties that scientists are anticipating. But, every new discovery is one step forward in the human understanding of the universe.