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The god particle - what a stupid nickname for the Higgs Boson.

Updated on August 20, 2011

The Higgs Boson

Religion has actually both helped and hindered science. It's a huge topic and not one that is appropriate here but let's look at one particular silly clash of terminology. The Higg's Boson, a.k.a. "The god particle".

Scientists need funding and publicity. The discipline is also littered with some colorful opinionated characters. In some cases, banter between two opposing views can be scathing, sarcastic, clever and funny. One example is the term 'big bang' - a term coined by Fred Hoyle who was a proponent of the 'steady-state' theory. His theory invoked some kind of mechanism that continually produced matter to explain observations of the day. The opposing theory was one that reduced all matter to a singularity as you wind the clock back. Both theories seemed to solve observational problems at the time, but Fred was so opposed and venomous to the idea of a singularity origin that he derided it as a 'big bang'. His aim was to ridicule the theory but instead it ignited people's imaginations which made it more popular and more studied.

However, the term 'big bang' also has connotations of an explosion of compressed 'something' *into* a pre-existing space, thus misleading many laypeople into a wrong analogy. The theory says nothing about 'before' or 'space into which an explosion could happen'. If this was true, then there would be a center of the universe, and we would be able to detect which direction it lies. But there is no center to the universe, and everything looks the same in every direction. Neither Earth, nor anywhere else is a centre of the universe.

The reason for that little story is to show how easy it it to confuse the public with flippant words. It leads me also into the term 'God particle'. This is a joke. Really... it's a joke. It's not, as you seem to think, a particle from which all others came. Peter Higgs apparently said, “Although I am not a believer myself, it’s a misuse of terminology that might offend some people.”.

The nickname has much to do with its central role in particle physics - like a keystone in an arch, or a jigsaw puzzle that completes the face of a central character in the composition. Most particle physicists are very certain its there. They know a range of energies between which it must exist, and they know why it must be there, and what is its role. None however will say for 100% certain that it exists until it is detected. But due to the huge energy involved, this particle is elusive (like a god). It's such an important part of the jigsaw puzzle, that multiple nations have banded together on a multi-billion dollar, multi-decade project to detect it.

Not only is this particle an important piece of a puzzle, it is also a sign-post. If it is there, then it will confirm with extreme confidence a huge body of particle-physics-knowledge. If it is not there, this is an equally important finding. It will simply point to new areas of research, some of which may be already promising but currently underfunded. So It is this central elusive important place in particle physics which gives the Higg's boson the nickname 'god particle'.

On the one hand, it generates publicity, but on the other it is grossly misleading to those not versed properly in the subject. This Higg's Boson is a necessary inclusion of the Higg's field. Every field requires a force carrier and the Higg's boson is the force-carrier for gravitational force.

Another misconception is the term 'force-field'. The field itself is not a force although there can be lengthy debate on the physical reality (or not) of a field. A field is more like the playground, while the play equipment and the children are the various particles. The Higg's boson fits into several theories - the most stable and predictive to date is known as the "Standard Model".

In order to transmit force, you need a field, and you need a force-carrier. For the electromagnetic force, the force-carrier is the photon. This happens to be massless, and as such travels at the speed of light. We can easily detect photons (just open your eyes).

The Higg's however, is massive. It's very hard to detect. Hopefully, by the end of 2011 the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, Switzerland will have revealed the presence (or not) of this elusive and important particle.

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    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      6 years ago from Australia

      ... GUT theories demand a lot more than just the Higgs. The Higgs is part of the standard model, and predicted by string theories.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 

      6 years ago from Southern California

      Manna

      Thanks

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      6 years ago from Australia

      "Would the existence of the Higgs Boson particle allow the completion of the Grand Unification Theory?"

      No.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 

      6 years ago from Southern California

      Manna

      I liked this hub and your opinions therein.

      Would the existence of the Higgs Boson particle allow the completion of the Grand Unification Theory?

      Thanks

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      7 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

      Wow, it's kind of like one day bacon is good for you and the next day it isn't!

      I hope scientists figure it out someday. Meanwhile, I think I'll just enjoy my life.

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Ref: http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2011/08/23/...

      Scientists chasing a particle they believe may have played a vital role in the creation of the universe say it might not exist after all.

      But they stress that if the so-called Higgs boson turns out to have been a mirage, it will open the way for advances into territory dubbed 'new physics' to try to answer one of the great mysteries of the cosmos.

      Scientists from the CERN research centre, whose giant Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been the focus of the search, said a conference in Mumbai that possible signs of the Higgs noted last month were now seen as less significant.

      They went on to make comments that raised the possibility that the mystery particle might not exist.

      "Whatever the final verdict on Higgs, we are now living in very exciting times for all involved in the quest for new physics," says CERN researcher Professor Guido Tonelli.

      CERN says new results, which updated findings that caused excitement at another scientific gathering in Grenoble last month, "show that the elusive Higgs particle, if it exists, is running out of places to hide."

      See - it may not be the "god" particle. :-)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi, thanks I will go take a look to see what's happening, cheers nell

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      7 years ago from Australia

      By the way - The LHC team have seen some tantalizing traces that could be attributed to the Higg's Boson. They are slowly cranking up the volume so stay tuned! This is the last particle of the standard model to be observed. (However the Standard model still has problems of consistency - so it's not the end of the road!)

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      7 years ago from Australia

      @Austinstar - That's almost a 'Popeye' quote ! "I yams what I ams"

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      7 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

      Realizing that man is eternally curious, I still think that "it is what it is" explains the entire universe.

      We can study things forever and quite possibly scratch the surface. But existence is the final authority.

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Hi Nell, consciousness is not understood by anyone. Penrose advocates a quantum-mechanical explanation for 'mind'. Artificial intelligence researchers hope that it is an emergent property of complex systems. Theological explanations are clearly wrong but serve many people quite nicely if all you want is an explanation. Mystics have their own scammy-explanations (they make money from it).

      Personally, I think the chance of fundamental particles being 'conscious' is exactly zero. Take the electron for example. It has been experimentally and theoretically found to be spherical to the accuracy compared to the width of a hair if the electron was the size of the solar system. There is no room for 'thought' in a system like that. This spherical shape is predicted by the standard model in its current form.

      Schrodinger used the cat in a box thought-experiment to challenge his contemporaries. It's almost a joke as it takes the mystic-like properties of quantum systems and extrapolates to something as large and complex and alive as a cat. This relates to something known as the 'Copenhagen Interpretation' of quantum mechanics. Argument have raged for years on the interpretation of various QT experiments. Today, some - or many abandon the Copenhagen Interpretation which basically says that the system under test is intimately entwined with the observer. It says that the observer is unavoidably part of the experiment. Note too that there are many versions of this Copenhagen Interpretation. It would take a whole hub to try and demystify this. (Even then failure to do so is likely!)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi, I still can't figure it out! I am beginning to believe that atoms actually do have some sort of conciousness, it would make sense, how that would work I don't know, but its a good theory I think, the other thing is the strodingers cat theory, the only thing that worries me about the 'look away and they do one thing, look at it and it does another' is the fact that they place a camera near the experiment to take photos and video it acting differently, I am beginning to feel that they area around the camera, maybe ions are actually affecting this experiment, maybe they only act differently because of this 'aura' being set of by the camera, what do you think?

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for dropping in Austinstar.

      Nell, Yes - it's all really fascinating. Have you got you head around the double-slit experiment? Mind blow.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      7 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

      I love physics and particles and nano anything. Cool article, Manna!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi, I was actually going to write about this as it fascinates me, then I realised I'd let someone else tackle it! ha ha to much brain work! but seriously I love particles and anything quantum so its right up my alley or street whichever one you prefer! lol but as you say its a bit of a non name, before I got into atoms etc I thought a quark was something out of deep space nine! you know the one, the ferenghi with the big ears, actually a ferenghi is an african tribesman! strange eh? you can see how my brain works, it goes of on a tangent! lol cheers nell

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      7 years ago from Australia

      +1 for humor diogenes!

    • profile image

      diogenes 

      7 years ago

      Even "Higgs boson" is a silly name for the Higgs boson!

      I mean...why not bison, or bosun? OK, cause it's a boson, not a horned animal really a buffalo, or a minor official in the navy. All things have names and most are silly if you say them often enough. I mean "manna in the wild" a slick name with maybe more connotations than are at first obvious (or less!). And diogenes. A filthy old wanker who lived in a barrel!

      Unhappily, many have said the name is apt.

      Oh, well, at least a name like god particle gets the church up in arms, a state they thoroughly enjoy...Bob (another silly names, "Bob! Bob! Ughhhh!

    • tsadjatko profile image

      7 years ago from now on

      Nope ... way beyond my abilities - as you can see in my first comment I can't even spell rite :-)

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      7 years ago from Australia

      @tsadjatko Yes - good point. The 'black holes' that people are scared of in the LHC. It's another misconception of course. 'Black-hole' is another poorly named cosmic feature.

      Nice link by the way - Did you write it?

    • tsadjatko profile image

      7 years ago from now on

      You may find this link as iteresting as this hub http://hasthelargehadroncolliderdestroyedtheworldy...

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