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The Higgs Boson Particle – Origin of mass: What is all the fuss about?

Updated on January 30, 2012

The Higgs Mechanism – The Higgs Field

There is so much talk of the Higgs Boson particle in the news at the moment that not knowing what they are talking about can be frustrating, so I hope that this article helps to fill in that gap in your knowledge

Before we can understand what the Higgs Boson Particle is, we need to understand the theory behind it:Bare with me as I use analogies to make a very mathematical concept understandable without the complexities of formal proofs and quantum mechanics so that it can be understood by the majority.

A symmetry exists between W and Z which were discovered at CERN in 1983 and this verifies the electro-weak theory. However the origin of the these particles remains a mystery. The best hypothesis is the Higgs mechanism.

Particle collisions

Will the Higgs Boson particle be detected at CERN
Will the Higgs Boson particle be detected at CERN | Source

Brian Cox on the Higgs Boson Particle

At its heart it demonstrates a beautiful symmetry between the WZ and Photon, but this symmetry breaking is a ubiquitous phenomenon, let me explain; A pencil balanced on it's tip exhibits perfect rotational symmetry, but when falls it does so in a particular direction, thus breaking the symmetry. It is believed the masses of the W, Z and the electron do so by a similar mechanism. Imagine these pencils are throughout space, even in a vacuum they are all joined together and all tend to fall in the same direction (A note to the more scientific reader, the direction is not a 'real' direction in physical space but the analogy is close enough). This can be thought of as the Higgs field and due to the fact that it exists even in a vacuum means that it influences the waves which travel through it. Waves have a direction in a real directional sense, but they also have a 'direction' in this conceptual space we have created. So in some of these conceptual directions the waves have to 'move' the pencils and in doing so become more sluggish and those waves are the W and Z quanta of the weak force

The beauty of this is that it can be tested because it hypothesises that there should be another wave, one in the pencils alone, where they are bouncing up and down. That wave is the Higgs Boson Particle. Finding it would confirm that we really do understand the origin of mass and fill in the few remaining gaps around the electro-weak theory.

Peter Higgs

Peter Higgs hypothesised the existence of the Higgs Boson Particle
Peter Higgs hypothesised the existence of the Higgs Boson Particle | Source

Who Hypothesised Higgs Boson Particle?

The Higgs boson Particle is named after Peter Higgs who is a Physicist at the University of Edinburgh. He devised a model where particle massed arise in a complex but stunning progression. Beginning with a particle that only has the characteristic of mass, nothing else that can distinguish it from empty space such as spin or charge. This is known as the H and it interacts with other particles. E.G. if H is near an electron there is a force between the two of them. As described above with the use of our metaphorical pencils. Higgs first became interested in Mass at Edinburgh and developed the idea that particles were massless when the universe began, squiring mass a fraction of a second later from the interaction with the Higgs field. The Higgs field is believed to only confer mass to leptons and quarks it only causes a fraction of the mass to protons and neutrons, where the majority comes from the gluons which bind the quarks produce most of the mass.

Higgs is an atheist and as such is believed to be annoyed with the nickname 'god particle' which was bestowed upon the Higgs Boson by Leon Lederman or more specifically by his editor who would not let it be called the 'goddamn particle' which was how it was originally coined due to it's extremely elusive nature!

What would confirmation the Higgs Boson mean for Physics?

Well the bottom line is that it would vindicate the Standard model. Which is a pretty big deal, this is the leading model describing the fundamental particles and forces of nature. There are 12 funder mental particles and four force carriers which are:

Standard Model - Predicts the existence of the Higgs Boson

12 Elementary Particles and 4 Force Carriers
12 Elementary Particles and 4 Force Carriers

As you can see from the image above the ones in red the Bosons are the force carriers. The other 12 are the elementary particles.

Latest on the Higgs Boson Particle

The Higgs boson particle is all over the news at the moment so below are some of the best videos describing why. Enjoy

BBC News on the Higgs Boson Particle

Fermilab update on the Higgs Boson

Hope you enjoyed this article and if there is anything that you didn't understand or want further explanation just leave me a comment and I would be happy to discuss.


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    • My Esoteric profile image

      Scott Belford 

      8 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      Dipless, great hub. I was looking for some good hubs to link to my new one this subject so I looked it over to see if I got anything wrong. I don't think so.

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Manchester

      Manna, I think this is a great contribution to this discussion. Indeed a theory can never be proved only disproved and as such we should be very careful about use of language. I know that when I write science, especially those on physic topics, I write things like 'only a theory' which I would be more formal in my language in a scientific review or another place I write for.

      As for theories, as you very neatly said a theory is only applicable in certain circumstances, which is what I was trying to sat ineloquently above to IB about F = ma not being applicable in quantum systems you have to use Schrödinger equation to measure the dynamics of these systems.

      Thank you again for your insightful comments.

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 

      9 years ago from Australia

      Be a little careful saying "XYZ" is ONLY a theory. What's better than a theory? A fact? No. Facts are kind of boring observations while a theory has predictive power. You can't 'prove' a theory, so there is no way to promote something from 'only a theory' to something better. All you can do is keep testing a theory and ultimately work out it's realm of applicability. Granted, there are physical 'laws' - like Newton's laws of gravitation, which are of course theories, and have a realm of applicability - extended by general relativity. Extremely fundamental and simple concepts like laws of entropy and conservation laws are also theories, but due to limited complexity, are unlikely to have boundaries.

      To put this in context somewhat, 'evolution' is a fact, and we have a 'theory' of evolution which is the tool we use as a predictor and tool for answering 'how'. So it makes little sense to say 'evolution is ONLY a theory'. The same goes for relativity. It's a really good theory, and does not deserve to be called 'only a theory'.

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Manchester

      Yes but if we don't understand what we are trying to fit into a boxit is impossible to fins the right box... to use your analogy.

      But the issue is that F=ms does not work on quantum scales you have to use Schrödinger equation we use Schroedinger's equation which describes the dynamics of the system, i.e.the time evolution of the state vector

      I don't know how comfortable you are with mathematical proof, but this is a good treatment on the equation:

      No a Photon cannot be thought of as a 'macrobody' under Newtons laws.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      Brad Masters 

      9 years ago from Southern California


      Thanks for the reply and information.

      My point was that maybe we put the wrong boxes to fill.

      So we expect to see a full box and try to see what might fit. But maybe if we picked the right box things might fit easier and make more sense.

      So F=ma

      but if mass = 0 then force is zero and how do you accelerate something without mass.

      my point is that mass doesn't have a meaningful definition for all cases.

      Is a Photon a body for the purposes of Newton's laws?

      The photons that reach the earth from the universe apparently have not encountered an outside force.

      just a thought...

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Manchester

      I'm very aware that special relativity is only a theory, however it has proved very successful and although modifications will no likely be made to it over time. With it's extremely close correlation to experimental results i doubt it will be thrown out any time, if ever.

      This is the whole point of research into the Higgs Boson, if we find it or if we don't find it, it will tell us more about the mass and help us define it more accurately, until we know for sure it is all theory. Time will tell

      You're quite right however there is still no hard evidence that nature is described by a Grand Unified Theory. The Higgs particle has not yet been officially observed so the smaller electroweak unification is still pending. The discovery of neutrino oscillations indicates that the Standard Model is incomplete and has led to renewed interest toward certain GUT. However until one of the few proposed experiments, especially hypothesised proton decay, is observed it will remain to be seen.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      Brad Masters 

      9 years ago from Southern California


      If science only had a better definition of mass, they might know more about gravity.

      Special Relativity is actually only a Theory.

      The fact that there is no grand unification theory could mean that the GR and SR are not the correct approach.

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Manchester

      @ ib radmasters Photons and other massless particles must move at the speed of light. As is described by Special relativity which is outside of the scope of a comment.

      However remember that a massless particles are still affected by gravity however the reason that they do not change speed is because the force changes the wavelength and not the speed, due to the fact that a massless particles momentum is dependent on frequency and wavelength unlike others which depend on speed mass and direction.

      @GinnyLee Glad you enjoyed it there is so much to learn and understand and the reality we live in is fascinating. Thanks for the feedback

    • GinnyLee profile image


      9 years ago from Arlington, VA

      What a great article. I love learning new things about science and physics. Thanks for sharing.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      Brad Masters 

      9 years ago from Southern California

      I believe you meant electron instead of election.

      what force moves a massless photon

      or why does a photon move.


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