What is the "God particle" that Nobel Prize winner Peter Higgs proposed back in 1964

Yulia PoteriankoNews
The boson predicted by Peter Higgs created a real revolution in physicists' understanding of the laws of the universe. Source: Created with the help of AI

On Monday, April 8, British scientist Peter Higgs, one of the most famous Nobel Prize winners in physics, passed away. He received his award in 2013, after researchers at the Large Hadron Collider experimentally proved the existence of the elementary particle predicted by the scientist, the Higgs boson. The outstanding scientist was 94 years old.

The theoretical physicist had been waiting for his prize for almost half a century. He published a prediction of the existence of an elementary particle, which would later receive the romantic name the "God particle," back in 1964. OBOZ.UA explains why his discovery is so important for the world science.

What is the Higgs boson?

From our school physics course, we know that all matter in the universe consists of atoms, and atoms of protons, electrons, and neutrons. But the reality is much more complicated. There are many types of elementary particles that are grouped into different classes.

In the Standard Model, which was developed by Higgs, the the micro world is described by hadrons, leptons, quarks, photons, gluons, gravitons, and bosons. They have different properties and are responsible for different natural phenomena. For example, quarks and leptons, also called fermions, are responsible for the existence of matter, and bosons are particles that carry the interaction between them. The Higgs boson stands somewhat apart from them because it is with its help that the interaction between fermions occurs.

In the same paper in 1964, Peter Higgs and his colleagues predicted the existence of a special field, in the interaction with which particles acquire mass. This field was later called the Higgs field, and the process of particle mass acquisition was called the Higgs mechanism. However, it took a long time to find the particle responsible for it. Researchers spent decades building more and more sophisticated tools to prove its existence.

For its elusiveness and key importance for understanding the Standard Model, the boson predicted by the British physicist Leon Lederman was nicknamed the "God particle". Scientists don't like this metaphor, but it has become a staple in popular culture.

How the "God Particle" was discovered

The discovery of the Higgs boson was only made possible when a giant particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest device of its kind, was launched in Switzerland in 2010. It accelerates protons to almost the speed of light and collides them with each other. This causes them to split into smaller particles, which are studied by physicists. One of the main tasks of the LHC was to search for the elusive Higgs boson.

When the collider was launched, researchers knew almost everything about the "God particle". But they could not prove its existence experimentally. It took two years to find relatively convincing evidence that the particle described by Peter Higgs really exists. And this search was extremely difficult. The collider's detectors gave conflicting data, and in some cases it was difficult to determine whether the decay was actually related to the boson being sought.

The first news of the discovery came from the collider on July 4, 2012. In March 2013, scientists finally confirmed that the "God particle" had been found. That same fall, 84-year-old Higgs, together with Belgian François Englert, shared the Nobel Prize "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that helps us understand the origin of the mass of subatomic particles and the existence of which was proven by the detection of the predicted elementary particle in the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN."

Why it is so important

In simple terms, the boson predicted by Peter Higgs is a completely separate phenomenon in the world of elementary particles. It is neither a particle of matter nor a carrier of interaction. In the interaction with the Higgs field, other particles gain mass, and this raises a whole bunch of new questions for physicists.

Thus, researchers believe that before the Big Bang, which gave birth to our universe, particles had no mass. And within 10-12 seconds after this event, they began to interact with the Higgs field, and this is how our universe with its physical laws was formed. Without this field, the particles would have simply scattered in space, not forming the atoms and molecules that make up all matter.

Thanks to the predictions of Peter Higgs and his colleagues, researchers continue to discover new particles at the LHC. Some of them make it possible to study dark matter and the phenomena responsible for its existence. That is, the work of the famous British scientist will continue for many years to come, and the discoveries that this work will bring may well lead to new scientific breakthroughs.

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