In wake of CERN's big July 4 announcement regarding the Higgs boson discovery, we thought we'd share a short take on the Higgs from MinutePhysics, a YouTube channel that produces videos on "cool physics and other sweet science":
Let's cut to the chase: as of July 4, 2012, the Higgs Boson is the last fundamental piece of the Standard Model of Particle Physics to be discovered experimentally. "But," you might ask, "why was the Higgs Boson included in the Standard Model alongside well-known particles like electrons and photons and quarks if it hadn't been discovered back then in the 1970s?" Good question. There are two main reasons:
First, just like the electron is an excitation in the electron field, the Higgs boson is simply a particle which is an excitation of the everywhere-permeating Higgs field. The Higgs field, in turn, plays an integral role in our model for radioactive decay, called the weak nuclear force (in particular, the Higgs field helps explain why it's so weak). We'll talk more about this in a later video, but even though weak nuclear theory was confirmed in the 1980s, in the equations the Higgs field is so inextricably jumbled with the weak force that until now we've been unable to confirm its actual and independent existence.
The second reason to include the Higgs in the standard model is some jargony business about the Higgs field giving all other particles mass. But why does stuff need to be "given" mass in the first place? Isn't mass just an intrinsic property of matter, like electric charge? Well, in particle physics…no. Remember that in the Standard Model, we first write down a mathematical "ingredients list" of all the particles that we think are in nature (and their properties). You can watch my "theory of everything" video for a quick refresher. We then run this list through a big fancy mathematical machine, which spits out equations that tell us how these particles behave.
Except, if we try to include mass as a property for the particles on our ingredients list, the math-machine breaks. Maybe mass was a poor choice… but most particles we observe in nature do have mass, so we have to figure out some clever way of using ingredients that will spit out mass in the final equations without it being an input - kind of like how you can let yeast, sugar and water ferment into alcohol that wasn't there to begin with.
And as you may be thirstily anticipating, the solution is to toss a yeasty Higgs field in with the other ingredients of the Standard Model, so that when we let the math ferment, we get out particles that have mass! But this model also brews up something we DIDN'T intend: a solitary Higgs particle, the infamous boson. And since the model works so well to explain everything else, we figured it was pretty likely that the lonely boson is right, too!
To summarize, the Higgs Boson is a particle which is a left-over excitation of the Higgs field, which in turn was needed in the Standard Model to 1) explain the weak nuclear force and 2) explain why any of the other particles have mass at all. However, the boson is the only bit of the Higgs field which is independently verifiable, precisely because the other bits are tangled up in the weak nuclear force and in giving particles mass. The fact that the Higgs Boson is so independent from the rest of the Standard Model is why it's the last piece of the puzzle to be discovered - and if it turns out to be exactly what was predicted, the Standard model will be complete.
The only problem is that we know that the standard model ISN'T a complete description of the universe (it entirely misses out on gravity, for example). So to physicists, it would be much more interesting AND helpful if the Higgs boson turns out to be not quite what we expect… then we might get a clue as to how to reach a deeper understanding of the universe. So even though we just made a discovery, we can't sit back and relax. We need a hint, Mr. Higgs.
Editor's Note: The above transcript was sent to HuffPost Science from Henry Reich of MinutePhysics.
What atoms combine to make up a molecule of water?
A. 1 hydrogen, 1 oxygen B. 1 hydrogen, 2 oxygen C. 2 hydrogen, 1 oxygen D. 2 hydrogen, 2 oxygen 54% got it right
Medium (54.24% Correct)
Which characteristic is shared by all cells? A. They need energy. B. They reproduce sexually. C. They make their own food. D. They move from place to place.
Medium (52.52% Correct)
Water evaporates and falls back to Earth as rain or snow. What is the primary energy source that drives this cycle? A. The wind B. The Sun C. Air pressure D. Ocean currents
Easy (74.48% Correct)
Kelly slides a flat rock across the smooth ice of a frozen pond. The rock slows down after several seconds. What causes the rock to slow down? A. The thickness of the ice B. The temperature of the air above the ice C. The force of friction between the ice and the rock D. The gravitational force between the ice and the rock
Medium (51.12% Correct)
Which layer of Earth is divided into plates? A. Mantle B. Crust C. Inner core D. Outer core (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Easy (68.97% Correct)
Why do mountain climbers at high elevations use oxygen tanks to help them breathe? A. At high elevations the ozone layer draws oxygen out of the atmosphere. B. The atmosphere is less dense at higher elevations so there is less oxygen available. C. Oxygen is heavier than the other gases in the atmosphere and sinks to lower elevations. D. Radiation from the Sun splits oxygen molecules into atoms making the oxygen unbreathable. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT
Easy (73.99% Correct)
The surface of the Moon is covered with craters. How were most of these craters formed? A. By eruptions of active volcanoes B. By impacts of many meteoroids C. By shifting rock on the Moon's surface (moonquakes) D. By tidal forces caused by Earth and the Sun
Medium (44.87% Correct)
Three funnels were filled with equal volumes of pebbles, fine sand, and coarse sand. The same amount of water was poured into each funnel. Which correctly lists the order in which the water passed through the funnels, from fastest to slowest? A. Pebbles, fine sand, coarse sand B. Pebbles, coarse sand, fine sand C. Fine sand, coarse sand, pebbles D. Coarse sand, pebbles, fine sand
Medium (56.29% Correct)
Household appliances convert electricity into one or more different forms of energy. An electric fan can best be described as converting electricity into A. heat energy only B. heat energy and sound energy only C. heat energy, sound energy, and mechanical energy only D. heat energy, sound energy, mechanical energy, and chemical energy (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
Medium (47.54% Correct)
An unusual type of fossil clam is found in rock layers high in the Swiss Alps. The same type of fossil clam is also found in the Rocky Mountains of North America. From this, scientists conclude that A. glaciers carried the fossils up the mountains B. the Rocky Mountains and the Swiss Alps are both volcanic in origin C. clams once lived in mountains, but have since evolved into sea-dwelling creatures D. the layers of rocks in which the fossils were found are from the same geologic age AFP PHOTO / ED JONES
Hard (17.36% Correct)
What two gases make up most of the Earth's atmosphere? A. Hydrogen and oxygen B. Hydrogen and nitrogen C. Oxygen and carbon dioxide D. Oxygen and nitrogen (Photo by NASA TV/Getty Images)
Hard (35.5% Correct)
A person produces two sound waves with a flute, one immediately after the other. Both sound waves have the same pitch, but the second one is louder. Which of the following properties is greater for the second sound wave? A. Frequency B. Amplitude C. Wavelength D. Speed in air AFP PHOTO/Indranil MUKHERJEE
Medium (42.01% Correct)
A human CANNOT survive the loss of which of the following? A. The appendix B. The liver C. A lung D. A kidney AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK
Hard (34.94% Correct)
Which of the following is an example of genetic engineering? A. Growing a whole plant from a single cell. B. Finding the sequences of bases in plant DNA. C. Inserting a gene into plants that makes them resistant to insects. D. Attaching the root of one type of plant to the stem of another type of plant. AFP PHOTO / Juan Mabromata
Hard (37.3% Correct)
All of the following are examples of erosion EXCEPT: A. The wind in the desert blows sand against a rock. B. A glacier picks up boulders as it moves. C. A flood washes over a riverbank, and the water carries small soil particles downstream. D. An icy winter causes the pavement in a road to crack. AFP PHOTO/STR
Hard (26.84% Correct)
Why does the leaf of a plant look green? A. Because it absorbs green light B. Because it reflects green light C. Because it absorbs only yellow and blue light D. Because it reflects a mixture of yellow and blue light AFP PHOTO/Yasuyoshi CHIBA