A long, long time ago – in 1964, to be precise – a group of geniuses hypothesized that a particle, known as the Higgs Boson, could explain why the things that make up the universe have mass (weigh something). And, on July 4th 2012, the boffins at CERN announced that they had found the fabled Higgs Boson. Yes – just like an atomic game of Where’s Wally!
So what’s the big deal with the Higgs? Well, let’s think about what the universe is made up of (in size order): atoms, protons and neutrons, electrons, and – drumroll please – quarks. Oh, and forces.
Now, you might be wondering how these teeny-weeny things can make something as mammoth as, well, a mammoth! The theory goes that these tiny particles go through a force called the Higgs field, which slows the speed of these particles and makes them clump together, thus giving the particles mass and allowing them to build anything and everything that exists!
The Large Hadron Collider was built to try and prove the existence of the Higgs boson (a particle that is given out as a byproduct of the presence of a Higgs Field). It does this by colliding two particle beams at 99.999999% the speed of light, recreating the conditions that were present less than a billionth of a second after the Big Bang.
$8 billion (that’s 1700000 pairs of Louboutin shoes), 3000 scientists and trillions of collisions later, the Higgs particle was confirmed to exist. This earned François Englert and Peter Higgs (after whom the particle is named) The 2013 Nobel Physics Prize, and a nifty $1.25mn reward!
At this point, the selfish side of me likes to wonder, “what good does this do for me?”. Well, without the Higgs field particles would just float through space like invisible bubbles. Apart from furthering our understanding of the universe, it doesn’t really have a practical use (as yet). Don’t get your hopes up; its discovery isn’t a shortcut to making you immortal or curing cancer, but that’s just how physics works. After all, MRI scanners were discovered by researching atomic nuclei in magnetic fields!