September 18, 2020

Setting the record straight:The Higgs Boson

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This archived article was written by: Nathaniel Woodward

Existence is a tricky puzzle to solve, the philosophy of it has torn us apart for thousands of years, however beyond the subjective conveniences of belief there is a reality which exists where we search for answers using testable and falsifiable methods. Sometimes we search and are disappointed and sometimes we discover something new and have to rewrite everything, such is the nature of discovery through the scientific method.
Science does not care what you believe and frankly that stinks. If only I could will my desires into existence. Like any academically inclined person, my theories and ideas are hard-won and dear to me yet regardless of how much I wish for them to be true, I must accept a reality in which they are not.
The answers we seek through science are often frustrating, if they fit our hypothesis at all they may take decades or centuries to prove. Such is the case in a theory proposed by Dr. Peter Higgs in 1964 which could explain precisely how our existence is even possible. Everything on our scale: humans, plants, bugs, clouds, mountains, planets, stars and galaxies are possible because of gravity, the glue that holds everything big together. Gravity’s existence depends upon an object having mass, but mass was difficult to explain, why something had mass had no real world explanation.
This question was examined by Higgs and a team of physicists and what they proposed was a medium which subatomic particles could travel which gave them the characteristics required to gain mass. Therefore forming the universe in which we live. Named the Higgs Field, this theoretical medium consisted of countless bosons (particles which can exists in the same quantum location) packed together, as a particle moved through, depending on how massive it was, it interacted with the field either a lot (more mass) or a little (less).
A good way to visualize the Higgs Field is by thinking of a pool of water, the water is the field and objects moving through it are the particles gaining mass. A larger object like a whale moving through water would meet a lot of resistance in the pool and therefore move more slowly making it interact more while a smaller/slimmer object like a dolphin would cut through the water quickly, interacting less.
Since the discovery of the Higgs particle was a major announcement, many are aware that it was indeed found to exist, confirming the decades old theory. However, what real-world applications does this discovery have? The Higgs Boson fills in a gap of our standard model of particles, which gives us more to work with as we test other theories and ideas.
What is particularly interesting is the information the existence of the Higgs gives us in trying to understand dark matter, something thought to make up a hefty majority of mass in the universe. If we can either confirm or observe dark matter, countless doors will be open to us, changing everything we know about our cosmos.
Science and its methods can be summed up by the word “potential.” Potential is a double-edged sword as its implications can swing drastically from the exhilarating to the tragic. How we wield this awesome power will define us as a species, will we build or destroy, inspire or dishearten, discover or ignore. It is not immune to bias, atrocities and controversy, but we must make a decision. Who are we going to be?

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