Why you should care about the Higgs boson
What the big discovery means to you.
The Higgs boson has done the impossible. Sure, its physical properties grant the particle the impressive power to give mass to everything in the universe. Without it, the fundamental framework of physics suffers irreparable damage, and scientists the world over would need to find a new way to understand how the world works. But the particle also has gotten many members of the public talking and thinking about particle physics — surely a more incredible feat.
When the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced July 4 the discovery of a particle “consistent with” the Higgs boson, it sparked a variety of questions. The first, for many, was simply, “What is a Higgs boson, anyway?” Many also wondered just what the big deal was surrounding the announcement. Or — given Astronomy’s coverage of the search for the particle — it might seem prudent to ask what it has to do with the science of space. As with many sudden celebrities, the Higgs boson has a mysterious and inscrutable past that suddenly everyone wants to know.
So we posed these questions, among a few others, to the people who knew the theoretical subatomic particle before it got famous: some of the world’s leading particle physicists. Here’s what they had to say.
Harvey Newman, California Institute of Technology, CMS experiment team member at CERN
What does this development mean for science?
This finding will set the course of physics for the next decades. Taking the long view, this has a major impact on our understanding of the laws of physics at the most fundamental level. Ultimately, these kinds of discoveries are one of the main drivers of the progress of civilization.
Is there a connection between this finding and astronomy?
If the supersymmetry model is correct as a more fundamental theory than the standard model, then the lightest supersymmetric particle could be a natural candidate to make up the dark matter that appears to permeate the universe.
Does it hold any special significance to you personally?
Our team has worked on the two-photon decay channel (one of the search methods) for the past 30 years. Many young students (both graduate and undergraduate), postdocs, and scientific staff, in addition to me, contributed in many ways to the analysis and to this discovery. These include my founding contributions in global computing, networking for the field, and collaboration systems.