Sunday, September 11, 2011

Higgs Boson 1

Two weeks ago, the whole world held its breath. Humanity awaited in astonishment for the outcome. No, we are not talking about Hurricane Irene, which was destroying the East Coast. We are talking India, the country where a quarter of the world population lives. In one of their biggest cities, Mumbai, they hosted the Lepton-Photon 2011 conference of leading physicists, including those working on the CERN project in Switzerland, working in the field of particle physics.
Just a month before, the same scientists convened in the European city of Grenoble to discuss similar issues. But now they have double the amount of data coming from the CERN laboratory and its LHC (Large Hadron Collider), the most expensive and perhaps the biggest machine build by humanity.
Of course I was being sarcastic in saying that all of humanity was waiting for some news coming from the conference. Unfortunately, most of humanity is busy hunting for food and entertainment and don’t even know about this big machine and round tunnel that is located under the Alps. However a number of readers have some understanding of what we are waiting for. It is necessary, however, to articulate that this understanding cannot come from sketchy articles in daily newspapers or popular magazines. For a while the popular media were frightening people with stories of antimatter being produced that would be capable of destroying the universe, or at least part of it. That’s simply foolish.
To understand the major aspects of what those scientists are convening about requires more than following popular media.
To make long story short, in 1905 Albert Einstein was experimenting with Polon (a chemical element discovered not long before by Marie Curie Sklodowska) on the surface of water and he made mathematical calculations proving the century-old atomic theory of John Dalton’s. Einstein proved the existence of an atom — from the Greek word “atomos – indivisible.” The atom was the smallest particle according to his and his contemporaries’ understanding; atoms were the building block of matter and the universe.
Only six years later it was discovered by New Zealand–born, British chemist and physicist Ernest Rutherford that the atom is built out of electrically negative electrons orbiting a positively loaded nucleus. Six more years and the same Rutherford, who by the way was the son of a farmer, was the first to experiment with atomic fusion and discovered that the nucleus is a combination of a positively loaded proton and electrically neutral neutrons.
We have to mention the name of one of the great scientists in theoretical physics of that century, and perhaps ever, the Danish Niles Bohr. In 1913, Bohr confirmed Rutherford’s discovery that the electron is orbiting the nucleus, but his greatest breakthrough was that of Quantum Theory or Quantum Mechanics — a mathematically proven description of the atom as a particle that exists only when we measure it, i.e. it depends on the conscious observer. I’m simplifying the whole theory here, and for sure I will not go to the various interpretations of this theory. I will limit myself to the most accepted Copenhagen Interpretation of it, which I will explain later, im yirtzeh Hashem.
For the next half century, mankind was busy determining how to use the new discoveries to annihilate their fellow human beings. But along the way, the structure and nature of the atom was understood more and more.
In 1964, two scientists, Gellman and Zweig, independently proposed the existence of quarks — the building components of the proton and neutron, which had recently been renamed hadrons.
Since then, the atom was divided even further and today we recognize whole families of subatomic particles. The picture below will give some idea of what are we talking about.
The picture was taken from here: and this is right place if you like to learn more about particles.

Along with the discoveries of the structure of the atom, we also came to understand most of the mechanisms ruling within the atom and, on a higher level, matter itself.
Among the recognized subparticles of the atom there are gluons, which are responsible for atom’s quarks sticking together against the other laws of physics. Quarks are building blocks of positively charged protons and all the elements besides the hydrogen are built from more than one proton. Gluon creates a strong nuclear force to hold them together. It belongs to the family of subparticles called “bosons,” which are cousins of fermions. Fermions are the subparticles that can be described as the building material of the atom, while the bosons are the particles giving the atom its feature or keeping everything together. If the fermions and bosons are cousins, then the Higgs boson is closer to the family of gluons.
We want to describe what the function is of the Higgs boson within the atom and if it exists at all; we will spend some time on it. But before we do this, first you should know that all of the particles described above and on the picture have been proven to exist. This isn’t the case with the Higgs boson and that’s what we are waiting to hear from the final statement of the scientists gathered in Mumbai. It is also important to say that the Higgs boson is perhaps the most important part of the atom, because it gives the atom its mass —without it our senses wouldn’t experience the matter as the solid entity it is — possible to touch, be walked on, or being building blocks of who we are, or rather the vessels for who we really are. More to come.

Matys Weiser

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