Discovery of the ‘God particle’ could make science fiction a reality, and answer one of the most basic questions of our universe: How did light become matter — and us?
- Last Updated: 11:23 AM, July 8, 2012
- Posted: 10:32 PM, July 7, 2012
All week, in bars across the country, men and women, young and old, have been caught up in heated arguments about fundamental scalars and neutrino oscillations.
Well, perhaps not, but higgsteria was certainly in the air. There’s even a Higgs joke doing the rounds. (A Higgs boson walks into a church. The priest says, "We don't let your sort in here." "Well, you better," says the boson. "You won't have mass without me." Rim shot.) And though most of us came away with little more than the idea that “they” have discovered something called a Higgs boson, that somehow creates a Higgs field, that somehow — wave of magic wand here — turns light into matter, even this level of understanding is quite something. I mean, how often do we get to talk particle physics? On how many days are mysteries of the universe solved? Plus we got to see what scientists look like when they get excited — whoops and high fives and air punches — weirdly just like the rest of us after a touchdown.
The discovery of the Higgs boson fills in a key part of our great modern creation story. In the beginning there was pure light held in perfect symmetry. But the symmetry broke — for reasons we don’t yet fully understand — and within a tiny fraction of a second the universe was born as light and matter inexorably expanding into time and space.
Fourteen billion years later, the universe is still expanding and here we are: what that light became. Many of the stages of this extraordinary story have been filled in, and this last week a cornerstone: how a universe made entirely of massless particles became a universe of matter. No wonder the Higgs is affectionately known as the “God particle.”
THE $10 BILLION EXPERIMENT
However much or little of the detail we may have grasped, and no matter that the announcement was hedged by probabilities — 1 in 35 million against will do for me as proof thank you very much — it is clear that something momentous has happened. Physicists tell us that a long quest has come to a close, and all because a shy Higgs particle has at last been coaxed into view, on at least a couple of occasions, and to two teams working separately on the most expensive experiment ever conducted in the history of the world (universe?) so far.
These teams are among more than 7,000 scientists working deep under mountains on the borders of Switzerland and France. The Large Hadron Collider experiment has so far cost an estimated $10 billion, most of it going on the construction of the collider itself — 27 miles of tunnel, 4 meters wide, containing 1,232 magnets each weighing 30 tons, all useful ammunition for the barroom nerd.Follow @NYPostOpinion