Why all the Higgs hype?
Peter Dobson | 27 March 2017

All these names are thrown into sweeping statements about science, making people seem a whole lot cleverer than they actually are. And yes, before I carried out a quick Google search, I was one of these people. But now (equipped with my new-found knowledge) I am going to have a go at explaining all this hype to those prepared to stay with me.

 

Firstly, let me clarify that I am talking about subatomicparticles (really, really small things) like protons and electrons.

 

Secondly, I want to set right the notion that 'mass' is not actually a measurement of 'stuff', but is just another characteristic of a particle, like having a positive or negative charge. Some particles have charge and some don't - this is the same for mass, so we can look at mass as a sort of gravitational charge to which there is no negative equivalent. This is a tricky concept to get your head around: it means that an electron can have mass but no volume, because having mass does not require it to have any 'substance' or 'matter'...

 

This leads onto another confusing matter. Imagine a field that permeates the entire universe. Every particle feels this field and is affected in different amounts, some are slowed down a lot by this 'field' and others hardly feel it at all. This is called the 'Higgs field'.  The particles that hardly feel this field have a small mass and the ones that are affected a lot have a large mass. Here's a handy analogy: the 'Higgs field' is a bit like water. When submerged in water we can't see any gaps as it is all around us; there is no escaping it. Some objects are not affected very much by water, like a little fishy swanning about doing its own little fishy thing, but others, like a fat man trying to run through water, are massively slowed down. We all know that water is made up of countless molecules of H2O. Just like water, the 'Higgs field' is made up of countless Higgs boson particles. Do you see where I'm going with this? The Higgs boson particle is part of the Higgs field that affects the speed at which things can travel, and this in turn gives nerds a measurement for particles: mass.

 

This links back to one of my initial names for the particle: 'the giver of mass'. I hope you can now understand why such a vast responsibility has been loaded onto this one small particle.

 

But why, I hear you cry, is it called the 'God particle'? Well, without mass, everything would travel at the speed of light. This is because if something has mass, it needs energy to accelerate. The more you accelerate through a field that always slows you down, the more energy you need to keep going, leading to an endless cycle of more energy and more mass and therefore more energy, making it impossible to get to the speed of light.Therefore, as I said, without things having mass, everything would travel at the speed of light, which (for sciency reasons) would make the universe's existence impossible. The universe as we know it just couldn't exist, and therefore we would not be here. This gives the Higgs boson the name 'God particle' because it is the fundamental reason we are able to exist.

 

This is now pretty deep and confusing, but I hope I have been able to help the few interested to understand what all the Higgs hype is  all about. 

James Routledge 2016