What is the Higgs Boson? - medical - 2023



July 4, 2012. CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) announces the discovery of a particle that we had been behind for almost 50 years. A particle that allowed to explain the origin of the existence of the Universe. A particle whose discovery had just constituted one of the greatest milestones in the history not only of physics, but of science in general.

We are obviously talking about the Higgs boson. Or, as the press called it in a fantastic (but challenged by physicists) marketing strategy: the God particle. With a name that refers to Peter Higgs, the scientist who proposed its existence in 1964, this particle explains the fundamental nature of the mass of the particles that make up the matter of the Cosmos.

And after so long since he proposed its existence and more than three years of experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, the existence of this particle was confirmed that it made the last piece of the puzzle within the standard model fit.

But what is the Higgs boson? Why was your discovery so important? What would happen if this particle did not exist? And what does it have to do with the Higgs field? If you want to find answers to these and many other fascinating questions, you are in the right place. In today's article we will dive into the mysteries of “the God particle”.

  • We recommend you read: “What is String Theory? Definition and principles "

Fermions and bosons: the problem of the origin of mass

Before going into depth to analyze the nature and importance of the Higgs boson, it is essential that we put ourselves in context and understand why it was necessary to propose its existence. And for this, we must pose the problem: we did not understand the origin of the mass.

In the second half of the 20th century, the development of the standard model of particle physics was completed., one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. In this model, we have all the subatomic particles that explain both the elemental nature of matter and the fundamental origin of the fundamental forces or interactions, worth the redundancy.

As we well know, this standard model includes protons, neutrons and electrons, which are the particles that make up atoms. But they are not the only ones. We also have quarks (the elementary particles of protons and neutrons), muons, tays, gluons and, as we will see, the Higgs boson. Among others.

The standard model made it possible to explain almost perfectly the elemental nature of matter and forces, dividing the subatomic particles into two large groups:

  • Fermions: The particles that make up matter. Everything we see in the Universe. From our body to a star. Matter are fermions, which, in turn, are divided into two families: quarks (there are six types and the up and down give rise to protons and neutrons) and leptons (electrons, muons and tau). Matter is born from the combination of these fermions.

  • Bosons: Particles exerted by fundamental forces.They do not compose matter but they do cause interactions to arise: electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force. And until the discovery of the Higgs boson (the existence of the graviton has been theorized to explain gravity), we had the following: photon, gluon, Z boson and W boson.

And it is now, with these bosons, that we must stop for a moment and talk about how the standard model allows us to explain all (or almost all) the fundamental forces of the Universe. Photons allow us to explain the quantum origin of electromagnetism (interaction between electrically charged particles in different ways and repulsion between particles with the same charge). Gluons, from the strong nuclear force (the one that unites protons and neutrons in the nucleus of the atom). And the Z and W bosons, of the weak nuclear force (the one that allows the beta decay of neutrons).

In this sense, beyond the fact that gravity did not fit (and still does not fit), the standard model was perfect, right? No. And in the 60s, we hit a dead end. A paradox that prevented us from understanding the origin of the mass of the particles.

According to the standard model theory itself, bosons should have no mass. And this is true for photons. But not with the Z and W bosons. They were massive particles. But if they were massive particles, by mathematics, their interaction had to be infinite in scope. And the weak nuclear force was, as the name suggests, weak.

Physicists did not know how to solve this. We did not understand where the mass of matter came from. The mass didn't seem like a force. It seemed intrinsic to the particles. But if it was something intrinsic, the mathematics of the standard model collapsed.

Fortunately, in 1964, three groups of physicists independently published solutions to this problem.. And one of these studies, the last to be published, under the name of "Broken Symmetries and the masses of gauce bosons" and signed by Peter Higgs, it attracted special attention.

Peter Higgs (United Kingdom, 1929), British physicist, in a short article, was proposing the existence in the Universe of what he called the "Higgs field" and explaining the origin of the mass of the W and Z bosons. He said that, in effect, these bosons were massless. It was granted by a particle: the Higgs boson. The God particle.

  • To know more: "The 8 types of subatomic particles (and their characteristics)"

The Higgs field: an ocean in the Universe

After the introduction, we are more than ready to dive into the nature of the Higgs boson and of what, as we will see, is truly important: the Higgs field. And to understand something as complex as this, the best is an analogy.

Think of the fish in the sea. They have lived, live and will always live in an aquatic environment. Water is a medium that surrounds them and that, in a way, constitutes their Universe. It permeates and surrounds them. His Cosmos is water. The ocean.

And even if it is there, the fish do not even perceive it. He has been with them from the beginning, so they do not know that they are in a medium. With the Higgs field, the exact same thing could be happening to us. We, the Earth, the planets, the asteroids, the stars and even the last particle of matter that exists would be the fish. And the Higgs field, the ocean. And after this metaphor, we have to get more technical and talk about the Quantum Field Theory.

Quantum Field Theory: perturbations, particles and forces

Quantum Field Theory is a relativistic quantum hypothesis that describes the existence of subatomic particles and the nature of the four fundamental forces as the result of disturbances in fields that permeate all space-time.

In other words, we must stop thinking about subatomic particles as solid spheres and start to do so as manifestations or specific disturbances within these quantum fields, which would be a kind of fabric capable of fluctuations.

Each particle would be associated with a specific quantum field. We would have a field of electrons, one of quarks, one of muons, one of photons, one of gluons, one of Z bosons, one of W bosons ... And so on with the whole standard model. The particles, then, would be point vibrations within these fabrics that permeate all space-time. Any particle is a local disturbance in its quantum field.

And it not only allows us to explain the existence of the particles, but also the origin of the fundamental forces. These would be communication phenomena between different quantum fields. That is, the fundamental interactions are due to exchanges of mediating particles (bosons) through the transfer of disturbances between different fields.

And in this sense, what Peter Higgs proposed in 1964 that there should be a field that had gone unnoticed but was there, permeating the entire Universe and explaining the origin of mass: the Higgs field. And, as a result of the disturbances in it, the Higgs boson is born.

  • To know more: "Quantum Field Theory: definition and principles"

What is the Higgs field?

The Higgs field is a quantum field, a fabric that permeates the entire Universe, giving rise to a medium that interacts with the fields of other particles, giving them mass. This is the simplified definition. Now we will go into more depth.

According to the theory proposed in 1964, the Higgs field would be a quantum field whose symmetry was broken a few moments after the Big Bang, thus allowing the appearance of mass in the Universe. When the particles (which we have already said are disturbances within their respective quantum fields) interact with this Higgs field, they encounter some opposition to the change in motion. And this is the key to everything.

The dough is just that. Particles being slowed down by the Higgs field. The Universe would be a kind of jelly where the Higgs field gives a viscosity in which certain particles have it more or less complicated to move. And from this slowdown, the mass arises.

Mass, then, is not an intrinsic property of matter. It is an extrinsic property that depends on how affected said particle is seen by the Higgs field. In this sense, the particles with the highest affinity (those that interact the most) for the Higgs field are the most massive; while those with the least affinity are the least massive.

Mass is a manifestation of the degree to which a particle finds an obstacle to move within the jelly of the Higgs field.. The Top Quarks are the most massive particles in the model because they are the ones that interact the most with this field. And photons, which have no mass, interact with it the least.

Imagine that you go out for a walk on a busy street. Nobody knows you. You pass without problems. Nobody slows down your movement. But now imagine that you are Cristiano Ronaldo. Everyone is going to come to you. They're going to slow you down. The people on the street are the Higgs field, you are a photon and Cristiano Ronaldo, a quark. As simple as that. So complex.

Thus, that fermions have mass and that, therefore, matter exists in the Universe, it is thanks to the Higgs field. But we had to discover, with experimentation, its existence. And here the Higgs boson comes into play. The important thing is the field. The boson is just the piece we had to look for to be sure that this field existed. And that is precisely what CERN set out to do.

Why is the Higgs boson so important?

The Higgs boson is so important because it was our only way to show that the Higgs field existed.. That there was a cloth that permeated the Universe and that made it possible to explain the origin of the mass of matter.

And, as we have said, particles are disturbances within a quantum field. When the field of electrons is excited, you have an electron at a point in space. So if the Higgs field exists, it must be able to undergo disturbances that will result in the momentary appearance of a particle. Your particle. The Higgs boson.

However, To excite this deep field, energies that were achievable only in the Large Hadron Collider were needed, the largest machine built by mankind. And after collecting data for three years making impact, with energies of 7 teraelectronvolts and 40 million collisions per second, protons at a very close speed of light, we saw that, indeed, hidden in space-time was this Higgs field .

We found a particle without spin and without electric charge with a half-life of one zeptosecond (one billionth of a second) and that could be confirmed to be the quantum of the Higgs field. The boson that was born from a disturbance in this quantum field. We had the God particle.

On October 8, 2013, 49 years after he proposed his existence, Peter Higgs was able to lift the Nobel Prize in Physics for having discovered the particle that demonstrated the existence of a field that permeated the entire Universe, that gave mass to elementary particles when it interacted with them and that allowed matter to exist. It is not the particle of God. But yes the particle thanks to which we are all here. The Higgs field was the last missing piece to fit the standard model. Now to continue. This is and should be science.

  • We recommend you read: "The 3 types of particle accelerators (and their characteristics)"

Peter Higgs.