Unless you’re totally and completely uninterested in any news whatsoever, you’ve probably heard about the announcement from CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) that experiments in the Large Hadron Collider have found some pretty strong evidence for the existence of the Higgs particle. Scientists will spend several more months to fully confirm the discovery, but right now things are looking good. But, as with much theoretical physics (now no longer quite so theoretical),the question remains – why do we care?
Some people get really upset that everyone doesn’t automatically care about scientific discoveries. I guess I understand their pain, to some extent; it’s normal to want everyone to get super stoked on your biggest passion. But I have a somewhat different perspective – people have limited time and energy to care about things and if we want everyone to care about our stuff, we best give them a very good reason to. This is my attempt to give y’all a very good reason to care about the Higgs particle.
At its core, the discovery of the Higgs particle, or Higgs boson, means that the intricate theories and calculations physicists were making to explain and understand the world were right. See, the Higgs particle was a proposed but not found particle with an associated Higgs field that would provide the simplest explanation for why everything around us has mass. According to the calculations, after the Big Bang, the Higgs field, which is everywhere, turned on and particles like electrons and quarks got mass. So if CERN scientists have found the Higgs particle, and there’s a decent chance that they have, then we now have evidence that our (well, Peter Higgs’s, Robert Brout’s, Francois Englert’s, Tom Kibble’s, C. R. Hagen’s, and Gerald Guralnik’s) calculations and theories about one of the fundamental aspects of our universe, how we and everything around us has mass, is correct. It sheds more light into the opening milliseconds of our universe. It provides another piece of the puzzle of us.
One reason I love studying biology is because the questions force me to think about how interconnected everything is, from the natural systems plants and animals and us inhabit to the amazing workings of cells and the organelles within them. Understanding these systems requires knowledge of or a willingness to learn something about the underlying chemistry, geology, and physics. While it’s hard to predict how or if the discovery of the Higgs would affect my research, I appreciate it for illuminating just that bit more of the world.
On July 4th, the day of the announcement, physicists were popping champagne corks and celebrating. In part, I know they were celebrating this mounting evidence and now seemingly imminent confirmation of the discovery of the Higgs particle. Where this discovery will take us is hard to predict, but I also know that many of them were celebrating the new questions they could ask and pursue, the new doors opened by this discovery. Each bit of scientific discovery illuminates a little more of the world. This is a big discovery, gigantic, and it has the opportunity to illuminate so much.