Wednesday, 14 December 2011

What on Earth is the Higgs Boson?

There's a lot of talk in the news about the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) getting close to identifying the "Higgs Boson" particle. I am pretty interested in Physics, though really dont understand half the things they end up talking about, so took it upon myself to read around and condense it all into something that I can understand.

The Large Hadron Collider has six experiment running simultaneously and two of them are focused on the search for the Higgs Boson Particle. This particle is a theoretical particle that will explain why matter (the stuff that makes up everything we can touch/feel/exert force on in the universe) has mass.

The experiment itself is quite simple. It involves protons (positively charged particles that are found in atoms) being sped up to nearly the speed of light, and smashing them together. Because of this HUGE amount of energy, these causes the colliding protons to create matter. A lot of this matter is very unstable and decays almost instantly but some does not. Once all the results have been analysed the most stable matter remaining would generally be the proton and this would give a reading around the 1GeV (Gigaelectronvolt) and this holds true.

Now theoretical physics postulates that if the Higss Boson exists then it would have an energy signature around the 126GeV range. This is exactly what the LHC is currently showing! Now at the moment the two experiments being run, one by ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) and one by CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) both show this reading. ATLAS can currently confirm the presence of this "bump" in the results to a 98% accuracy and the CMS to 94%.

Physicists have a method of showing how certain they are about a concept called the Sigma system. At its most simplest Sigma 5 is a certain event (as much as can be certain!). 98% equates to a sigma level of just over 2 and 94% just under 2. They will continue to run the experiments to try to obtain a Sigma 5 level of certainty, which is about 99.9999% certain.

This is no doubt an extremely simplified version of an incredibly complex subject, and if anyone reads this and wishes to correct any problems or misconceptions then please let me know. I just hope this serves as a very simple summary to those who are interested.

This Graph is from the ATLAS experiment - taken from Discovery blog.


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