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What is a Higgs Particle?

Asked by: Jon Lorello


The Higgs particle is as yet a hypothetical particle invoked to explain why the carriers of the electroweak force (the W and Z bosons) have mass. Quantum electrodynamics requires the photon to have zero mass (which is good because indeed it does), but early attempts to develop and electroweak theory also required the bosons to be massless, (which is bad because then they would be as abundant as the photon in the universe, which indeed they are not). Peter Higgs and two Belgian researchers (who worked independently of Higgs) come across the same idea for settling the puzzle in 1964. If there is an otherwise undetectable field filling the universe (now called the Higgs field), it could have associated with it a previously unknown kind of boson, the Higgs particle, which has mass. This would allow any photon-like particle to become massive by swallowing up a Higgs boson. It is possible, but not proven, that all-massive particles get their mass this way.

Answered by: Dan Summons, Physics Undergrad Student, UOS, Souhampton

To answer this, think about this question: Why do particles have mass? Our world would be a much simpler place if particles didn't have mass.

All interactions/forces in nature (electromagnetism, weak, strong and gravity) are transmitted by particles called gauge bosons. For example electromagnetism is 'carried' by photons. This idea was carried on to explain mass.

In 1966 Peter Higgs (University of Edinburgh) proposed that the universe was full of a field called a HIGGS FIELD. Disturbances in this field as particles move through it cause objects to have mass. From a a quantum point of view, we can only stir up the field in discrete units. The smallest possible disturbance is due to a HIGGS PARTICLE, or more precisely, a Higgs Boson. The field consists of countless Higgs Bosons that act like a kind of cosmic molasses that fills all of space. As objects move through space they have to 'wade' through these Higgs particles that 'cling' to them, causing a drag that shows up as mass.

To sum up, Higgs Particles are believed to be responsible for mass of objects in the universe.

Answered by: Simon Hooks, Physics A-Level Student, Gosport, England

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