Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The Higgs Boson

Long-term readers will recall that 4 years ago (yes, really) we discussed the Large Hadron Collider.  More recent interlopers may wish to recap: http://why-not-smile.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/science-and-what-it-might-do-to-us-all.html

So, today they say that the Large Hadron Collider has found the Higgs Boson, and at least one person so far  has asked me to explain this.  So here goes.

First of all, let's get over this ridiculous idea of calling "the God Particle", because it's not God and has nothing to do with God really, except insofar as everything has something to do with God, who either created it all or doesn't exist, depending on your take on things, but let's not get into that here.

The Higgs Boson is very small, which is why it's so hard to find, but it can also explain why other stuff is heavy, which is why they thought of it in the first place.  Think of it as having mice in your house: you may not be able to see them, but then you find poo in a cupboard, and your cereal boxes have been gnawed, and you think "maybe I have mice".  As with mice, so with the Higgs Boson, because it is too small to see, but the Scientists have seen things which suggest it might exist, such as teeth marks on other particles and things.

With mice, you can just get a cat or put traps out or things, but with the Higgs Boson, you have to build a Big Machine and do Experiments, and even then you can't really be sure that you've found a Higgs Boson, but you can be reasonably certain, and this is what has happened.  To be precise,
they ha[ve] attained a confidence level just at the "five-sigma" point
which means it is quite likely to be the Higgs Boson, but also maybe someone sneezed or wrote down the wrong number or something.

Also, although it is referred to as "The" Higgs Boson, this is a little bit misleading, as there are actually lots of them, and not just one, but so far they have only found one of them.  To find more they will have to build a new Big Machine in another place, where a different Higgs Boson lives.

6 comments:

Virtual Methodist said...

As my sister in law's partner wrote: "So, this Higgs Boson thing, The God Particle. I don't agree with the name; "God" implies life-giving, but it doesn't give us life. It gives matter mass... which means it's more like the Cake Particle."

Sharon Gilmore said...

Nice. The Cake Particle. I like.

Dave said...

So if I've got this right, they have found the boson that lives in either Switzerland or France, but because of that uncertainty thing they're not sure which and it has whiskers and smells a little like cheese. Also if they study it carefully it might allow us all to lose weight or mass or perhaps both.

Not sure what all the fuss is about.

Sharon Gilmore said...

Look. It cost them a LOT of money to find that thing. So stop criticizing, OK?

transfarmer said...

Was it called Higgs Boson before it was found or after? Is it named after the person who discovered it? that's an unfortunate name. also i'm glad you explained this cause my ignorance was causing me to look puzzled in social situations. however your analogy of mice will haunt me in my dreams.

Sharon Gilmore said...

It is named after Peter Higgs, who was the first person who saw that the other particles had bite marks, and thought there must be mice, but then thought "maybe it's a whole new kind of Small Thing".

A boson is a pre-existing type of Small Thing, so this is a particular breed of such; specifically, one which is governed by Bose-Einstein statistics.