Harvey Newman: Higgs boson and how the universe generates mass

Physicists have discovered a new elementary particle. They’re 99 percent certain it’s the long-sought Higgs boson, which some call “The God Particle.”

Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, have discovered a new elementary particle. They say they’re 99 percent certain it’s the long-sought Higgs boson, which some call “The God Particle.” They’re excited – and here’s why. According to scientists’ theories, the Higgs boson is needed to give the universe its mass. It validates what’s called the Standard Model of particle physics, which is something like a periodic table of particles smaller than an atom. EarthSky spoke with CalTech physicist Harvey Newman, who was involved in discovering this new particle at CERN.

Famous ATLAS Detector at CERN

Newman told EarthSky:

The first thing is that we want to know is how mass is generated. And without the Higgs particle, actually nothing could work. Nothing that we understand about how the universe evolved into what we see today, even though the Standard Model has its own shortcomings at very high energy scales, essentially the whole universe couldn’t have come to be if there was not something which was like the Higgs particle.

To find the Higgs particle, scientists smashed hundreds of trillions of protons into each other at speeds near that of light. The tremendous energy of each collision produces a myriad of short-lived particles. And all in all only a few dozen of the trillions were found with characteristics consistent with the Higgs.

Image Credit: Fermi Lab

Newman said:

Looking to the future, this is just the beginning of our exploration. And the present and the next generation of scientists will be working to further elucidate this picture to tell us what is behind this discovery; to tell answer some of our other fundamental questions which are not really answered by the Standard Model, and to give us a much clearer picture about how nature works and how our universe is composed.

Listen to the 90-second EarthSky interview with Harvey Newman on the Higgs boson and how the universe generates mass, at the top of the page.

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