What Is The God Particle?

Everyone’s talking about the Higgs boson discovery– but what if someone asks you to explain it?

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “How to explain Higgs boson discovery” was written by Tim Dowling, for The Guardian on Wednesday 4th July 2012 16.00 UTC

The possible discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN is obviously of tremendous importance to our understanding of the universe, but how does one explain the Higgs boson to a layperson, a child, an idiot? A lot depends on who you’re talking to, and what they want to hear. Just use this handy guide to selective explanation:

For people you’re trying to impress: “The Higgs boson is an elementary scalar particle first posited in 1962, as a potential byproduct of the mechanism by which a hypothetical, ubiquitous quantum field – the so-called Higgs field – gives mass to elementary particles. More specifically, in the standard model of particle physics, the existence of the Higgs boson explains how spontaneous breaking of electroweak symmetry takes place in nature.”

For harassed, sleep-deprived parents: “If the constituent parts of matter were sticky-faced toddlers, then the Higgs field would be like one of those ball pits they have in the children’s play area at IKEA. Each coloured plastic ball represents a Higgs boson: collectively they provide the essential drag that stops your toddler/electron falling to the bottom of the universe, where all the snakes and hypodermic needles are.”

For English undergraduates: “The Higgs boson (pronounced “boatswain”) is a type of subatomic punctuation with a weight somewhere between a tiny semicolon and an invisible comma. Without it the universe would be a meaningless cloud of gibberish – a bit like The Da Vinci Code, if you read that.”

For teenagers studying A-level physics: “No, I know it’s not an atom. I didn’t say it was. Well, I meant a particle. Yes, I do know what electromagnetism is, thank you very much – unified forces, Einstein, blah blah blah, mass unaccounted for, yadda yadda, quarks, Higgs boson, the end. It was a long time ago, and I’m tired. Change the channel – we’re missing Come Dine With Me.”

For a member of the Taxpayers’ Alliance: “Its discovery is a colossal, unprecedented, almost infinite waste of money.”

For a child in the back seat of a car: “It’s a particle that some scientists have been looking for. Because they knew that without it the universe would be impossible. Because without it, the other particles in the universe wouldn’t have mass. Because they would all continue to travel at the speed of light, just like photons do. Because I just said they would, and if you ask ‘Why?’ one more time we’re not stopping at Burger King.”

For religious fundamentalists: “There is no Higgs boson.”

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