The Higgs boson, named after physicist Peter Higgs, is created by the quantum excitation of the Higgs field. In 1964 Higgs et al had suggested this answered fundamental questions as to why particles have mass. It was actually verified in 2012. Experimental evidence conducted at the LHC confirmed the expected properties of a Higgs boson. In 2013, Higgs and François Englert, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. More recently, the media have coined the phrase the “God particle”.
How was the Higgs boson discovered?
The Standard Model
Our knowledge around the origins of forces between elementary particles, begins with the Standard Model. This model, excluding gravity, rationalises multiple ideas in physics. The fundamental forces in nature arise from properties called gauge invariance and symmetries.
This model includes a field required to break electroweak symmetry and give particles their correct mass. The Higgs Field (a scalar field) with a non-zero constant valuebreaks certain symmetry laws, facilitating the Higgs mechanism.
Proving the Higgs field existed was attempted by the detection of excitations, the manifestation of the particle. The energy needed to produce these particles is extremely high and therefore detection was still many decades away. CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider, is the world’s most complex and powerful particle accelerator. The continuous evolution and upgrading of the facility eventually led to a capability able to reproduce the required conditions that facilitated the creation and detection of the Higgs boson particle, in 2012. In recent years, the particle has repeatably shown to behave in many of the ways predicted for Higgs particles and has shown even parity and zero spin.
The Higgs mechanism
In 1964, three groups of researchers independently published PRL symmetry breaking papers. A unique aspect to the Higgs Field is that it requires less energy to have a non-zero value than a zero value.
The first search for the Higgs boson was chased at CERN in the 1990s. At the end of its service in 2000, LEP had found no conclusive evidence for the Higgs. The search also continued at Fermilab in the USA. The Tevatron was the only supercollider that was operational since the LHC was still under construction. The Tevatron was only able to exclude further ranges for the Higgs mass, and was closed down in September 2011.
The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, a circular 27km underground tunnel, designed to collide two beams of protons. Tests were delayed, by a magnet quench, caused by a faulty electrical connection destroying over 50 superconducting magnets.
Research testing finally commenced again in March 2010 and the two main particle detectors at the LHC, ATLAS and CMS, had narrowed down the mass range where the Higgs could exist. Later in 2011, both experiments had resulted in the slow emergence of a small excess of gamma and 4-lepton decay signatures. The narrowing of the possible Higgs range to around 115–130 GeV and the observation of small event excesses across multiple channels were made public knowledge. In 2012 data eventually confirmed the finding of a Higgs boson, when their collision data had been examined.
Why is the Higgs boson called the God particle?
The Higgs boson carries the nickname, the God particle in areas of the media. The nickname comes from the title of the 1993 book on the Higgs boson and particle physics, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? by Physics Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman. The book aimed to promote awareness of the shutting down of the US project. Lederman, a leading researcher in the field, writes that he wanted to title his book The Goddamn Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? Lederman’s editor decided that the title was too controversial and convinced him to change the title to The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?
Lederman begins with a review of the long human search for knowledge, and explains that his tongue-in-cheek title draws an analogy between the impact of the Higgs field on the fundamental symmetries at the Big Bang, and the apparent chaos of structures, particles, forces and interactions that resulted and shaped our present universe.
Elementary particles – Quarks, Leptons and Fermions
Leptons’ antiparticles are the antileptons, having the opposite electric charge and lepton number. The antiparticle of an electron is positron. There are three charged leptons are called electron-like leptons, while the neutral leptons are called neutrinos which oscillate, so that neutrinos do not have definite mass. They are in a state of superposition called an eigenstate. There is also a sterile neutrino.
Fermions, like bosons, are a fundamental class of particle. They are described by Fermi–Dirac statistics and have quantum numbers described by the Pauli exclusion principle. They include the quarks and leptons. Fermions have half-integer spin of 1⁄2 and are also Dirac fermions, have their own antiparticle. They are classified according to whether they interact via the strong interaction or not. In the Standard Model, there are six quarks and six leptons.
Quarks are the fundamental constituents of hadrons. Their antiparticles are the antiquarks, which are identical except that they carry the opposite charge, colour charge, and baryon number. There are three positively charged quarks are called up-type quarks and the three negatively charged quarks are called down-type quarks.
Why is Higgs boson so important?
The Higgs boson validates the Standard Model. If the Higgs field had not been discovered, the Standard Model would have needed to be superseded. The Higgs discovery including the continued experimentation and data provided by the LHC, allow physicists to search for any evidence that the Standard Model seems to fail, and could guide researchers into future theoretical developments.
Symmetry breaking of the electroweak interaction
Electroweak symmetry breaking causes the electroweak interaction to manifest in part as the short-ranged weak force. Electroweak symmetry breaking is believed to have happened shortly after the big bang, when the universe was at a temperature 159.5±1.5 GeV. This symmetry breaking is required for atoms and other structures to form, as well as for nuclear reactions in stars. The Higgs field is responsible for this.
Particle mass acquisition
The Higgs field generates the masses of quarks and charged leptons (through Yukawa coupling) and the W and Z gauge bosons (the Higgs mechanism). In Higgs-based theories, the property of “mass” is a manifestation of potential energy transferred to fundamental particles when they interact with the Higgs field, which had contained that mass in the form of energy.
Scalar fields and extension of the Standard Model
The Higgs field is the only scalar (spin 0) field to be detected; all the other fields in the Standard Model are spin ½ fermions or spin 1 bosons. The Higgs boson’s discovery, this existence proof of a scalar field, is almost as important as the Higgs’s role in determining the mass of other particles.
Properties of the Higgs boson particle
The Higgs particle is a massive scalar boson with zero spin, no electric charge, and no colour charge. The Higgs field is a scalar field, with two neutral and two electrically charged components that form a complex doublet of the weak isospin SU(2) symmetry. In its ground state, this causes the field to have a nonzero value everywhere. This results in, below a very high energy, it breaking the isospin symmetry of the electroweak interaction. Three components of the Higgs field are absorbed by the SU(2) and U(1) gauge bosons to become the longitudinal components of the W and Z bosons. The remaining electrically neutral component either manifests as a Higgs particle, or may couple separately to other particles known as fermions.
Experimental findings after 2013
In July 2017, CERN confirmed that all measurements still agree with the predictions of the Standard Model. Experimental evidence of the predicted direct decay into fermions, such as pairs of bottom quarks, was a milestone in confirming its short life and decay into pairs of tau leptons. This was of paramount importance to establish the coupling of the Higgs boson to leptons and is a crucial step in measuring its couplings to third generation fermions. In July 2018, the ATLAS and CMS experiments observed the Higgs boson decay into a pair of bottom quarks, which makes up approximately 60% of all of its decays.
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[Q] Why do particle physicists care so much about the Higgs particle?
[A] Well, actually, they don’t. What they really care about is the Higgs field, because it is so important. [emphasis in original]
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‘As a layman, I would say, I think we have it,’ said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director general of CERN at Wednesday’s seminar announcing the results of the search for the Higgs boson. But when pressed by journalists afterwards on what exactly ‘it’ was, things got more complicated. ‘We have discovered a boson – now we have to find out what boson it is’
Q: ‘If we don’t know the new particle is a Higgs, what do we know about it?’ We know it is some kind of boson, says Vivek Sharma of CMS […]
Q: ‘are the CERN scientists just being too cautious? What would be enough evidence to call it a Higgs boson?’ As there could be many different kinds of Higgs bosons, there’s no straight answer.
[emphasis in original]
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[T]he Higgs’ influence (or the influence of something like it) could reach much further. For example, something like the Higgs—if not exactly the Higgs itself—may be behind many other unexplained “broken symmetries” in the universe as well … In fact, something very much like the Higgs may have been behind the collapse of the symmetry that led to the Big Bang, which created the universe. When the forces first began to separate from their primordial sameness—taking on the distinct characters they have today—they released energy in the same way as water releases energy when it turns to ice. Except in this case, the freezing packed enough energy to blow up the universe. … However it happened, the moral is clear: Only when the perfection shatters can everything else be born.
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ATLAS and CMS only just co-discovered this particle in July … We will not know after today whether it is a Higgs at all, whether it is a Standard Model Higgs or not, or whether any particular speculative idea…is now excluded. […] Knowledge about nature does not come easy. We discovered the top quark in 1995, and we are still learning about its properties today… we will still be learning important things about the Higgs during the coming few decades. We’ve no choice but to be patient.
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quoting Lee’s ICHEP 1972 presentation at Fermilab: “…which is known as the Higgs mechanism…” and “Lee’s locution” – his footnoted explanation of this shorthand
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Lee … apparently used the term ‘Higgs Boson’ as early as 1966 … but what may have made the term stick is a seminal paper Steven Weinberg … published in 1967 … Weinberg acknowledged the mix-up in an essay in the New York Review of Books in May 2012.(See also original article in New York Review of Books and Frank Close’s 2011 book The Infinity Puzzle:372 (Book extract) which identified the error)
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…this titanic complex…
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Lederman, who considers himself an unofficial propagandist for the super collider, said the SSC could reverse the physics brain drain in which bright young physicists have left America to work in Europe and elsewhere.
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Lederman, one of the principal spokesmen for the SSC, was an accomplished high-energy experimentalist who had made Nobel Prize-winning contributions to the development of the Standard Model during the 1960s (although the prize itself did not come until 1988). He was a fixture at congressional hearings on the collider, an unbridled advocate of its merits.
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The possibility that the next big machine would create the Higgs became a carrot to dangle in front of funding agencies and politicians. A prominent American physicist, Leon lederman [sic], advertised the Higgs as The God Particle in the title of a book published in 1993 …Lederman was involved in a campaign to persuade the US government to continue funding the Superconducting Super Collider… the ink was not dry on Lederman’s book before the US Congress decided to write off the billions of dollars already spent
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Consider the early universe–a state of pure, perfect nothingness; a formless fog of undifferentiated stuff … ‘perfect symmetry’ … What shattered this primordial perfection? One likely culprit is the so-called Higgs field … Physicist Leon Lederman compares the way the Higgs operates to the biblical story of Babel [whose citizens] all spoke the same language … Like God, says Lederman, the Higgs differentiated the perfect sameness, confusing everyone (physicists included) … [Nobel Prizewinner Richard] Feynman wondered why the universe we live in was so obviously askew … Perhaps, he speculated, total perfection would have been unacceptable to God. And so, just as God shattered the perfection of Babel, ‘God made the laws only nearly symmetrical’
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- Guralnik, Gerald (2009). “The History of the Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble development of the Theory of Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking and Gauge Particles”. International Journal of Modern Physics A. 24 (14): 2601–2627. arXiv:0907.3466. Bibcode:2009IJMPA..24.2601G. doi:10.1142/S0217751X09045431. S2CID 16298371., Guralnik, Gerald (2011). “The Beginnings of Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking in Particle Physics. Proceedings of the DPF-2011 Conference, Providence, RI, 8–13 August 2011”. arXiv:1110.2253v1 [physics.hist-ph]., and Guralnik, Gerald (2013). “Heretical Ideas that Provided the Cornerstone for the Standard Model of Particle Physics”. SPG Mitteilungen March 2013, No. 39, (p. 14), and Talk at Brown University about the 1964 PRL papers
- Philip Anderson (not one of the PRL authors) on symmetry breaking in superconductivity and its migration into particle physics and the PRL papers
- Cartoon about the search
- Cham, Jorge (19 February 2014). “True Tales from the Road: The Higgs Boson Re-Explained”. Piled Higher and Deeper. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
- Higgs Boson, BBC Radio 4 discussion with Jim Al-Khalili, David Wark & Roger Cashmore (In Our Time, 18 November 2004)
- Jakobs, Karl; Seez, Chris (2015). “The Higgs Boson discovery”. Scholarpedia. 10 (9): 32413. doi:10.4249/scholarpedia.32413.