A New Boson Discovered!


By Gwen Myslinski

Ever ask this question: How do we exist? That question had been plaguing physicists for decades, and this summer there might be an answer. The particle that would complete the standard model of physics with an explanation of why objects in our universe have mass may have been found according to a press release on July 4, 2012, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Everything in the universe — plants, people, stars — has mass, made of atoms, which are all constructed of smaller sub-atomic particles: quarks, leptons, bosons, etc. Physicists have been able to use math to describe all these particles in the universe, as well as the forces that hold them together. This way of looking at things is called the standard model. All the particles have been identified, all that is, except one — Higgs boson.

Boson particles operate like messengers, carrying a force of some sort between particles. Higgs boson is a little different. Instead of force, it is constructed from the Higgs field that is responsible for giving all other particles mass. If the Higgs field didn’t exist, physicists theorize nothing in the universe would have mass. Galaxies, stars, Earth, and certainly people, would not exist.

Discovering the ‘God Particle’

CERN, located in Geneva, Switzerland, is the world’s largest center for scientific research, focusing on physics — specifically what the universe is made of and how it works. They have complex scientific instruments and use them to learn more about the laws of nature. One instrument is a large, underground tunnel called the Large Hadron Collider. This is what scientists used to discover the Higgs boson candidate.

The discovery wasn’t an easy one. There were two teams searching for the Higgs, and to make the particle appear, each team had to smash two protons into each other near the speed of light. This created an explosion that lasted for a split second; the Higgs boson would appear and then fall apart into lighter-weight particles. Both teams independently shared similar findings, ensuring the results hinted at the discovery of a boson.

Classroom Discussion

  • Now that Higgs boson has been potentially discovered, what else (dark matter, other particles, etc.) do you think will be discovered in the CERN underground Large Hadron Collider? How long do you think these discoveries will take?
  • Once scientists have had a little time to explore and understand Higgs boson, do you think they will find many more unknowns? Any ideas as to what?