Higgs boson | Physics, Particle Physics & Standard Model (2024)

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Also known as: God particle, Higgs particle

Written by

Christine Sutton Science writer. Research Associate, Department of Nuclear Physics, University of Oxford. Author of The Particle Connection and Spaceship Neutrino.

Christine Sutton

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The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica Encyclopaedia Britannica's editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree. They write new content and verify and edit content received from contributors.

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Last Updated: Article History

Higgs boson detection

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Also called:
Higgs particle
Key People:
Peter Higgs
François Englert
Related Topics:
subatomic particle
Higgs mechanism
On the Web:
Nature - The Higgs boson turns ten (June 24, 2024)

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Higgs boson, particle that is the carrier particle, or boson, of the Higgs field, a field that permeates space and endows all elementary subatomic particles with mass through its interactions with them. The field and the particle—named after Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, one of the physicists who in 1964 first proposed the mechanism—provided a testable hypothesis for the origin of mass in elementary particles. In popular culture the Higgs boson is often called the “God particle,” after the title of Nobel physicist Leon Lederman’s The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? (1993), which contained the author’s assertion that the discovery of the particle is crucial to a final understanding of the structure of matter.

(Read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Britannica essay on scientific discoveries.)

Britannica QuizPhysics and Natural Law

The Higgs field is different from other fundamental fields—such as the electromagnetic field—that underlie the basic forces between particles. First, it is a scalar field; i.e., it has magnitude but no direction. This implies that its carrier, the Higgs boson, has an intrinsic angular momentum, or spin, of 0, unlike the carriers of the force fields, which have spin. Second, the Higgs field has the unusual property that its energy is higher when the field is zero than when it is nonzero. The elementary particles therefore acquired their masses through interactions with a nonzero Higgs field only when the universe cooled and became less energetic in the aftermath of the big bang (the hypothetical primal explosion in which the universe originated). The variety of masses characterizing the elementary subatomic particles arises because different particles have different strengths of interaction with the Higgs field.

The Higgs mechanism has a key role in the electroweak theory, which unifies interactions via the weak force and the electromagnetic force. It explains why the carriers of the weak force, the W particles and the Z particles, are heavy while the carrier of the electromagnetic force, the photon, has a mass of zero. Experimental evidence for the Higgs boson is a direct indication for the existence of the Higgs field. It is also possible that there is more than one type of Higgs boson. Experiments searched for the massive Higgs boson at the highest-energy particle-accelerator colliders, in particular the Tevatron at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). On July 4, 2012, scientists at the LHC announced that they had detected an interesting signal that was likely from a Higgs boson with a mass of 125–126 gigaelectron volts (billion electron volts; GeV). Further data was needed to definitively confirm those observations, and such confirmation was announced in March 2013. That same year Higgs and Belgian physicist François Englert (who had also proposed the Higgs mechanism) shared the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Christine Sutton The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Higgs boson | Physics, Particle Physics & Standard Model (2024)
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