Higgs Boson Particle Discovered: Reflections on Explosions
The colorful beauty of pops and booms at the fireworks displays on the 4th brought me back to childhood when the workings of these explosions were mysterious.
Not knowing the nature of the fireworks, how they functioned, made them magical and powerful.
The real fireworks on the 4th took place far from the United States where scientific discoveries reported by researchers operating the world’s grandest particle smasher the CERN in Switzerland.
Scientists reported that morning on the first observation of the Higgs Boson or “God Particle,” an elusive bit of subatomic matter that they have theorized about since the 1960s. For many, this discovery is among the most important in the history of science, like a dream fulfilled.
A bit of the magic of my youth lies in the scientific power of these subatomic explosions in the 17-mile long CERN particle accelerator where the Higgs Boson was discovered. Magic for humans always exists in the unknown or the incompletely understood. While do not yet definitively claim it, a cautious bunch are they, the particle discovered behaves like the “God Particle,” they say. In other words, it glues and binds together subatomic particles.
Unlike the fireworks, which are no longer mysterious, the explosions of subatomic particles still represent some of the grandest mysteries for my grown up mind. We move down from the realm of atom, proton, neutron, and electron to the level of quarks, which have no mass, but make up the content of the smallest parts of atoms.
This truly is magic—the particle that joins these quarks together to form the parts of atoms—and scientists have been hunting the tiny bits for over 50 years. The Higgs Boson has mass, and hence the power build and bind subatomic particles, providing the glue, the gravity that enables construction. The God Particle holds everything subatomic together, and without it quarks would simply float, untethered, never to combine. Matter as we know it could not exist.
The CERN Hadron Collider has been the testing ground. In the 17 mile long tunnel, with circular, super conducting magnets are able to suspend subatomic particles in the precise middle of the tunnel, accelerate them beyond the speed of light, collide them, and take images of what comes out of the explosion. Fireworks indeed! Despite countless collisions, the Higgs Boson had not been detected until yesterday. Plenty of quarks, but the most significant particle had been elusive.