I hope that last week I was able to roughly explain not only the history of the discovery of the atom, but also its basic structure. I’m aware that all this knowledge cannot be comprehensively described in a short essay, so if you are interested in this science of matter, I encourage you to do further research on this topic. Meanwhile, as promised, I will continue to explain the significance of the search for the Higgs boson.
Within the last hundred or so years we learned about the atom and it subatomic components. We accepted the so-called “standard model” of the particle as the description of the building blocks of the universe and experiments confirmed the existence of these subatomic particles. All of them with one exception — the Higgs boson.
That standard model does not explain that which is postulated by the Big Bang theory, that equal amounts of antimatter where electrons are loaded positively and the nucleus negatively. Statistically there is supposed to be the same amount of antimatter as matter (what everything and everyone is made from) in the universe. But the reaction of the matter and antimatter would leave nothing but energy. The question is how the energy that precedes the formation of matter, and is the “material” that matter is built from, reacts “peacefully” as the cosmic fusion became matter. Soon after the subatomic particles of energy form the atom, they should collide with the particles of antimatter that are located just next to them and annihilate each other, becoming … subatomic particles of energy.
It doesn’t happen. Miraculously, the matter and antimatter are separated and, thank G-d, antimatter doesn’t exist anywhere next to us, in our corner of galaxy. This is not the case with one of the major components of atoms of antimatter, a positively loaded electron called positron. Positron is produced commercially and is used widely in, for example, PET scanners. In other words, it exists in actuality, not only in theory.
The other issue the standard model, as we understand it today, does not explain is the postulated existence of so-called “dark matter” — matter that is invisible to our instruments and that is keeping galaxies together from within, by the force of its strong gravity.
Before I explain where the Higgs boson fits in here, I want to explain that the atom has mass. The attribute of mass causes the atoms to form solid matter, which is then manifested in four forms: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma, or as it was described in ancient times: earth, water, air, and fire. Some of the atom’s sub-particle components have measurable mass as well.
However, here comes the big surprise: These components themselves are particles of pure energy, and the questions that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is supposed to address are: What gives these particles of energy their mass? What is giving mass to the atom? What cause matter and everything in which matter is manifested to exist?
To be clear, we are not talking here about Aristotelian “first cause,” but only about the physical reasons for matter to perform as it does.
So what does the Higgs boson have to do with atoms and matter? In 1964, leading physicists, among them Peter Higgs, postulated the existence of the power that gives the atom its mass. Regardless of the fact that several of the scientists were working toward this independently at the same time, the energy or power was called the “Higgs mechanism” or “Higgs field” (though they are not the same thing).
In the following years of Higgs’s discovery, there were further discoveries of other subatomic particles, as described briefly above. The scientists postulated the existence of a separate sub-particle and called it the “Higgs boson.” The Higgs boson is supposed to be a particle that slows down, catches or causes somehow in a different way, the other particles to have mass, thereby giving mass to atoms, and matter in general.
I hope what I wrote above is clear enough so that you can understand the importance of finding the Higgs boson. Some people even claim that it can somehow prove the existence or nonexistence of the Creator. They call this particle “G-d’s particle.” Using that term is confusing and is used to give by the media to make the hunt for Higgs boson dramatic to the general public.
In one of my opening posts I wrote that if there is a question about existence it is our existence. In this and my following essays, I will explain a lit bit more about what I meant by my words.
Soon after the first experiments in CERN’s laboratory, some of the scientists expressed the opinion that perhaps the Higgs boson doesn’t exist at all. This is not something new. Stephen Hawking, a famous physicist, bet $100 on the nonexistence of the Higgs boson. I’m not sure if he expressed disbelief in the particle itself or also in the Higgs field or Higgs mechanism. Without a doubt, in the standard model there must be 'something' that gives matter its mass. It’s postulated that this 'something' is the Higgs boson, also called “G-d’s particle.” Recently, especially after the first experiments by LHC, some of the authorities who believed previously in the existence of the Higgs boson have said that perhaps the boson itself doesn’t exist and maybe there is more than one particle causing other subatomic particles to gain mass as they join together to form the atom. Check back here next few days for more on this.