The Higgs Field – Fact, Fiction or Football?

Update …. I really should finish a post in better time. Its been nearly a week since England lost to Italy at the football and I can hear the final (Italy vs Spain) on the telly, so please forgive my delay in getting this post out.

After the fuorre surrounding the press release given by the joint CMS and ATLAS teams at CERN last December, I thought I might take a short time to let things calm down a bit before I commented. Although a fair bit longer than I had anticipated waiting, it now seems that the dust has settled, so i thought I’d just have a quick look over the posted results and offer up my 2p worth. This is just before the upcoming ICHEP 2012 conference, which will undoubtedly see the dust well and truly stirred up again and set the cat amongst the pigeons (or at very least, set the world of the quantum spectator ‘flapping’ yet again).
The long and short of the last conference is that although the Higgs could not yet be confirmed, the main two ‘Higgsy’ experiments at the LHC, CMS and ATLAS, had closed the gap in the energy spectrum for where the Higgs can’t be. With the shrinking of the mass availability window to 110 to 145MeV the probability of successfully finding this elusive boson must surely be shrinking too??? It really is running out of hiding places !!!!
One glimmer of hope is the “spike” at approx 125GeV. This increased probability point has been independently seen by both of the main experiments and I guess the last six months furious data collection and analysis by the teams at ALTAS and CMS might (or might not) be further confirmed at the ICHEP conference in 3 days time.

Without the Higgs particle and it’s associated Higgs field, the standard model of particle physics starts to look a bit nervous.

I guess before we go too much further I ought to explain just exactly what a Higgs field is? I can’t really do that without talking about the much talked about (and often misunderstood or misquoted) “Higgs boson”.

I’ll try and keep it as simple as possible (for my own sake as much as anyone else I suspect!).
The Higgs boson or Higgs particle is the theorised member of the group of subatomic particles called bosons. I guess you might have read some of my other posts so you’ll know what a boson is. For those that don’t, a boson is the subatomic particle that carries or mediates a force or quality. In the case of the Higgs, this is mass. The standard model theorises that just as the photon is the carrier for the electromagnetic force, the gluon for the strong nuclear force and the W and Z bosons carry the weak force – there must be a subatomic particle that gives all the hadrons mass. This is what the Higgs does – in theory!
So whats this Higgs field ………? Well, putting aside explanations about SU(2) symmetry breaking etc the simplest explanation is that the Higgs field is a quantum effect that permeates everything. As a particle travels through this field it acquires (inertial) mass. The method by which things gain their mass from Higgs field is called the Higgs mechanism. Lastly, since Higgs is a quantum field it must also have a particle associated with it…….. and there we are back to the Higgs boson.

It is however, proving to be remarkably elusive! But as previously stated …….. without this missing link, the standard model of particle physics starts to fall down as there is nothing to explain the mechanism for why things have mass.
There are a number of problems facing experimental physics in search of the Higgs. The first is that it cannot be directly seen or detected. The only way to mark its discovery is to look for statistically significant events in the the decay remnants of high speed (and therefore high energy) proton/proton collisions, such as those at the LHC at CERN. The best indication of detection is the production of two high energy photons. Alas, This is also the rarest.
It is also very very short lived – somewhere in the region of 10-12 seconds. Lastly, even the mighty LHC produces only very small amounts of these bosons, completing the difficulty of detection.

With this in mind it seems almost a competition between the two experiments (ATLAS and LMS) at CERN to see who, if either, will get a glimpse of the Higgs first.

So….. to go back to the original question of whether the Higgs Field is fact or fiction, the answer is …… we’ll all just have to wait and see. In the mean time, as we’re just about to see the end of Euro 2012, I’ll stop pondering this and get back to the football !!!! 🙂

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