Thursday, January 30, 2014

Where's that particle?

The "reason of our existence" some scientists would call it. The particle that makes stuff for mystery stories. Hiding under the radar of science. Elusive and expensive to find. The "God" particle. 

Their quest took them 40 years to complete. Time, effort and an unimaginable amount of money and resources has been allocated for this search, which, in that long period of time, would be called worthwhile.

Peter W. Higgs, right, and François Englert at a conference in Switzerland on July 4, 2012. Source: New York Times

In 1964, Peter Higgs, Francois Englert, and their colleagues theorized that there must be something that might explain why other particles have mass, why all things hold together, why we exist.  That something is the Higgs boson. 

It is popularized by the media as the "God particle". The nickname comes from the title of a 1993 book "The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?" by Leon Lederman, a Physicist, a Nobel Prizewinner and Fermilab director. Lederman wrote this as a response to the US government decision to halt the construction and support of the Superconducting Super Collider, partly constructed competitor of the Large Hadron Collider, that he championed since its inception in 1983 until its shutdown in 1993.

Leon Lederman

Lederman on explaining why he named it the God Particle:

"Today ... we have the standard model, which reduces all of reality to a dozen or so particles and four forces. ... It's a hard-won simplicity [...and...] remarkably accurate. But it is also incomplete and, in fact, internally inconsistent... This boson is so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive, that I have given it a nickname: the God Particle. Why God Particle? Two reasons. One, the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing. And two, there is a connection, of sorts, to another book, a much older one..."

—Leon M. Lederman and Dick Teresi, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question p. 22

It was on July 2012 when the Higgs boson particle was discovered in the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. And it has been billed as one of the biggest scientific achivement for the last 50 years. On March 14, coinciding with Albert Einsteins' birthday, they announced that, the particle they have been looking for has characteristics that looked more like the Higgs boson particle.

Both Higgs and Englert, now in their 80's, was awarded the Nobel Price for Physics for all their efforts in the Higgs boson on October 8,2013. Their prize of $1.2 million has been awarded last December 10,2013. The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international awards bestowed in a number of categories by Swedish and Norwegian committees in recognition of cultural and/or scientific advances.* The founder of the Nobel Prize is Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of Dynamite.

One might be shouting expletives when one hear of this so called "God particle" and how it shaped our universe. This is the particle that actually gave particles mass. Without it, there wouldn't be any atoms, without atoms, no molecules, without molecules no DNA, without DNA, no living things would exist, and that includes us.As we look further into the vast void that makes up the cosmos, or look deeper into the "inner" cosmos of atoms, quarks and bosons, we help foster a new age of scientific discovery. Pushing us further advanced, further enligthened and the scientific enterprise will continue pushing forward, and there are no signs of stopping.