10 years have passed since the discovery of the Higgs boson

The discovery of the Higgs boson, the elusive subatomic particle that describes how the world is made, marks a decade. On July 4, 2012, CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) announced its discovery at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), ushering in a new era in understanding the structure of matter. The confirmation of its existence has had a relevance for fundamental physics comparable to that of the discovery of DNA in biology. Not in vain, the boson was popularly baptized as the “God particle”, a name that has never been to the liking of the British physicist from whom it takes its name, Peter Higgs.

The finding demonstrated in practice the existence of a key element in the explanation of the origin of the universe, theorized almost half a century earlier by Belgian physicists Francois Englert and Robert Broutand by the already mentioned peter higgswho separately came to propose their existence in 1964. The Higgs boson was the missing key piece to complete the Standard Model of physics, since it is responsible for giving mass to the particles. “Without this particle, the universe would not be as we know it considering everything: the melting and boiling point of water, the way light propagates, the fundamental constants of the cosmos, that if you touch any of them the universe would be different”, explained the scientific communicator Javier Santaolalla in the program The mornings of RNE.

Las Mañanas de RNE- It is 10 years since the discovery of the Higgs boson – Listen now

Fundamental particles can be divided into two groups: fermionswhich are those that constitute matter, and the bosons, which cause the rest of the particles to interact with each other. The Standard Model of physics describes this interaction between particles, but for it to be complete and to explain why they have mass, the mechanism that Higgs, Englert and Brout had theoretically formulated had yet to be identified. It is an invisible field – also called the Higgs field – that fills the universe and causes particles to gain mass when they come into contact with it. The Higgs boson is the result of the vibration of this invisible field. that fills the void.

The largest machine built by man

But proving its existence was extremely difficult, since it could not be detected directly, because once it is produced it disintegrates almost instantly giving rise to other more common elementary particles. In order to do so, an instrument such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was needed, the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, which is also the largest machine built by human beings. Two research groups of about 3,000 scientists each, ATLAS and CMS, managed to identify the signals left by the boson with billions of collisions between particles.

After the discovery of the Higgs boson, the collider made possible the discovery of more than 60 compositional particles that had been described by theoretical physicists, including some considered “exotic” in nature such as tetraquarks or pentaquarks.

Peter Higgs, the scientist who theorized about the existence of the boson that bears his name. Claudia Marcelloni / CERN

Coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the discovery, the LHC will restart with record collision energy. The goal is to continue delving into the secrets of this particle. The hadron collider will operate at its maximum power of 13.6 teraelectronvolts (TeV) for four years, practically simulating the density that existed microseconds after the Big Bang, the phenomenon that started the universe.

The beams of protons – the particles of the nucleus of the atom -, accelerated to a speed close to the speed of light, will circulate in opposite directions in the 27-kilometre ring, buried 100 meters below ground on the border between France and Switzerland. The detectors of various experiments (notably ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb) record the collisions of protons -up to 1,600 million per second-which are the ones that produce these ephemeral particles that explain the functioning of matter.

The energy that the LHC will reach will make it possible to multiply data collection not only to continue studying the properties of the Higgs boson, but also to observe processes that were inaccessible until now.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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