Hunt the Higgs!

Hunt the Higgs!

What is the Higgs boson?

Physicists are excited because they've found the Higgs boson. But what is the Higgs boson? Why do we even care?

Come with Planet Science as we investigate hidden particles...

What is the Higgs boson?

The Big Bang was the beginning of the universe as we know it. Billions of tiny particles were made. These particles were the building blocks of the universe, zipping around at the speed of light.

About a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, the Higgs field switched on. The Higgs field is made up of lots of Higgs bosons, a type of particle. As the universe grew, the Higgs field grew.

Big bang_121226458

The Higgs field switched on one trillionth of a second after the Big Bang

Imagine you're swimming through treacle. It would slow you down. When particles travel through the Higgs field, it's like they are travelling through treacle.

Instead of zipping around, particles slowed down. Some particles travelled slower than others. This made these particles heavier - they got more mass.

Some particles, like electrons, do not get slowed down by the Higgs field as much. This means that they don't get as much mass.

Some particles, like photons, which form lightwaves, remain massless. They move through the Higgs field at the speed of light, as if it's not there.

Fundamental particle_144208633

The Higgs field slows down most particles and gives them mass

Without the Higgs field, particles wouldn't have mass. They'd still be zipping around at the speed of light. Without mass, they would never have come together to form planets, stars and even us!

Why do we care about the Higgs boson?

Scientists had a model for the way the universe works. They knew what most of the particles in our universe are. But they weren't sure why there is a variety of particles with lots of different weights.

The Higgs boson was suggested 50 years ago as a particle that would give other particles mass. It is the key to telling us why other particles are the way they are.

But scientists had never seen it. So how did they know their theory about the universe was right?

If the Higgs boson didn't exist, our best theory about the way the universe works would have been very wrong.

Head scratch_104710695

What if the Higgs boson doesn't exist? Our theory about the universe would be wrong!

The discovery of the Higgs boson means that scientists are on the right lines. Their picture of what everything is made of and how the universe works is probably correct.

It suggests that one of science's greatest theories is probably right. If you were a physicist, you'd be excited too!

The discovery of the Higgs boson could lead to new and exciting particles being found and help scientists answer even more questions about how the universe works.

How did scientists find the Higgs boson?

How do you look for one tiny particle in a sea of other particles?

Scientists use the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is an enormous pipe, 27 miles in diameter, which fires protons at each other near to the speed of light. Protons whizz around the LHC and crash together.

When the particles that make up protons collide, you get a flash of energy. Electrons, quarks and protons are all produced in this flash of energy. Occasionally a Higgs boson is produced.

large hadron collider_photo by john mcnab_413x310

Scientists crash protons together inside the Large Hadron Collider to look for the Higgs boson. Photo by John McNab.

But, the Higgs boson doesn't hang around for long.  As soon as the Higgs boson is created, it decays into other particles.

These particles can then decay into other particles. This makes looking for the Higgs boson very difficult and very time consuming.

What happens next?

Finding the Higgs boson is just the first step. Scientists want to know if the Higgs boson behaves as their theory predicts. If it behaves differently, it could tell us something new.

Scientists can use what they know about the Higgs boson to find other particles. For example, dark matter makes up a quarter of the universe, but we don't know what dark matter is.

Keep listening. You never know what scientists will find next!

Curriculum information

Sign up for the newsletter
Sign Up For The Newsletter
Want to get the latest science news from Planet Science straight to your inbox? Sign up now!