How the Higgs boson changed our understanding of the universe and why it destroyed the life of the physicist who discovered it

The 4 July 2012 Researchers at Large Hadron Collider They announced that they had found the last piece of the puzzle that had been unfinished for 48 years.

The Large Hadron Collider is the machine Bigger and more complex which had not previously been built; The piece he found is a particle from the subatomic world, one of the elementary masses that make up everything we know.

that piece Boss Higgs, Verifying its existence is one of the greatest achievements of modern physics.

With the discovery of the Higgs boson, . was found Standard Formwhich describes the set of elementary particles that make up everything we know, and the forces that interact with each other to make them work like Legos being put together.

The achievement of the Large Hadron Collider was the culmination of an adventure that began in 1964, when British physicist Peter Higgs published a theory that Predict that the boson must exist.

According to Higgs himself, that was “The only good idea” He had in his life, and at first thought that his theory was nothing more than useless calculations.

However, what actually happened is that the particle you were looking at that the collider later found is there, It revolutionized the understanding of our universe.

That good idea earned Higgs the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics, and, ironically, ruined his lifeas he tells it himself.

in 2022 10th Anniversary The Large Hadron Collider discovered the Higgs boson.

At BBC Mundo we spoke with two professionals about how this tiny particle celebrated a decade to help us answer two big questions for humanity: Where did we come from and what did we make?

Standard Form

For a long time it was believed that atoms are particles most elementary What it all consists of.

Then we learned that those atoms are actually made of even smaller particles: atoms. Protons and neutrons that make up the nucleus of an atom, and the electrons that orbit around that nucleus.

But today we know that even those protons and neutrons can be broken down into particles. even smaller.

In total, 17 fundamental particles were discovered, which, when interacting with each other due to the influence of forces, form the entire universe as we know it.

This set of 17 particles and forces is known as the Standard Model.

These particles fall into two large families: fermions and bosons.

Fermions: They are the building blocks of the entire universe. It’s like legos that, depending on how you combine them, form different atoms. There are 12 fermions, divided into six quarks and six leptons. In other words: everything we know is made up of groups of quarks and leptons. Or in general: everything we see is made of fermions.

Bosons: They are the particles that carry the forces that make fermions interact. In total, there are five types of bosons, each of which carries one of the three fundamental forces that make matter react:

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1. A gluon that holds the strong force that holds quarks together;

2 and 3. The W and Z boson, which carry the weak force, which leads to the dissolution of the nucleus of an atom and the formation of another atom;

4. Photons that carry the electromagnetic force.

There is also a fourth force, perhaps the most famous of all: gravity.

Peter Higgs at the Large Hadron Collider on the border between France and SwitzerlandCERN

It just so happens that gravity at the subatomic level is so weak that its effect can be largely ignored, so it’s not part of the Standard Model.

In this way, we have nearly completed the Standard Model: the family of fermions interact with the family of bosons to form the universe.

What is the Higgs boson?

We’ve already seen 12 fermions and 4 bosons, which is 16 out of 17 pieces of the Standard Model.

We’re just missing the piece that completes the model: the Higgs boson.

The Higgs boson is needed to answer a key question: Particles such as quarks and leptons have a mass with which matter can be formed. But where do these particles get their mass?

The answer is the so-called Higgs field, an invisible environment that permeates the entire universe and fertilizes the particles traveling in it with mass.

In this Higgs field are the Higgs bosons, which are those that distort the particles that make up matter by mass.

“The discovery of the Higgs boson showed that there is something strange in which we are all drowning, and this is known as the Higgs field,” Frank Close, professor emeritus of theoretical physics at the University of Oxford, told BBC Mundo. .

“Just as fish need submersion in water, we need the Higgs field,” says Close, author of The Dodger: How Peter Higgs Solved the Riddle of the Requiem (literally translated into Spanish).

In 1964, Peter Higgs was one of the first to theorize about the existence of this field and the first to predict that there should be a particle associated with this field.

But only in 2012, thanks to the Large Hadron Collider, it was possible to notice that this particle, which we now know as the Higgs boson, actually exists outside the scope of theory.

Why was this result so important?

For Saúl Noé Ramos Sánchez, a researcher at the Institute of Physics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, there are three major milestones marked by the discovery of the Higgs boson that have marked our understanding of the universe.

1. He gave us complete knowledge of the elementary particles that compose it

“All the particles that make up our atoms have finally been understood, including their relationships with other particles,” Ramos Sanchez told BBC Mundo.

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2. A particle different from the others has been found

The Higgs boson is not like electrons, it is not like protons, and it is responsible for certain interactions that lead to knowledge of the mass of these particles.

That is, the Higgs boson is the key piece that tells us why other particles look the way they are.

3. The most accurate theory that exists has been found

Ramos Sanchez asserts that the Standard Model “is the most accurate theory that mankind has.”

It is the most accurate theory.

Claus has a similar opinion: “With some small exceptions, he explains everything we see very well,” says the professor.

the future

Experts agree that after that date on July 4, 2012, there was another great discovery related to particle physics.

Some recent experiments at the Large Hadron Collider and at Fermilab, another particle accelerator in the United States, have indicated what could be a new particle or as yet unknown force.

If so, it may raise questions about the Standard Model.

However, the results of these experiments are not conclusive.

“After the discovery of the Higgs boson, the Standard Model became more solid than anything else,” says Ramos Sanchez.

But it is also true that there are many questions that the Standard Model fails to answer.

For example, it does not explain what dark matter is, a mysterious component that makes up 27% of the universe.

Nor does it explain why there is more matter in the universe than antimatter, or why the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

And another big gap: it failed to contain the force of gravity.

Regarding many of these mysteries, many theories have been developed, but Neither of them provides a convincing answer.

But that doesn’t mean the Standard Model is wrong, experts say.

“I wish I was in a crunch!” says Close.

“If it is in crisis, it will give us clues that we have to build a great theory that explains all this,” the professor adds.

The ‘problem’ of the Standard Model is that It works very well.”.

“We know it’s not a definitive theory, but it’s a theory full description From everything we can reach so far.”

math trick

According to Close, who interviewed him for years to write his autobiography, Higgs maintains that the boson “It’s the only good idea he ever had.”

In fact, at first, Higgs thought his discovery was something “totally useless”according to closure.

“He thought he did a simple mathematical trick that he could theoretically give the mass of the photons. And besides, Higgs was not particularly prolific.

Throughout his career, he wrote only 12 studies. Of those 12 studies, only three, which were related to the Higgs boson, had any connection, the others were accidentalaccording to closure.

“And after that he didn’t keep working on it either, He did practically nothing else in this regard.It was other people who took his ideas and continued to build knowledge on them, says the professor, and spurred all the enthusiasm that led to the building of the Large Hadron Collider.

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Higgs It changed the idea of ​​how the universe worksAnd that’s the only thing he’s ever done in his life,” says Close.

“So it may have been true that the Higgs boson was the only good idea, but I wonder how many really good ideas any of us have?”

behind the paper

In 1964, Higgs wasn’t the only one working on the idea of ​​what we now know as the Higgs field.

together, other scholars Studies have been presented that pointed in this direction.

However, Higgs was the only person who realized that his mathematical idea was correct, that is, it really is. found in nature And it wasn’t just a trick to solve theoretical problems.

“His mathematical trick assumes that there is something strange, which we call the Higgs field,” says Close.

“If this realm is real, then we should be able to detectAnd the way to find it should be what we now call the Higgs boson.”

“Higgs was the only one who noticed it, so it was the boson baptized in his name. “

‘ruin my life’

After the Large Hadron Collider confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson in 2012, it was almost clear to the scientific community that Nobel Prize in Physics In 2013 it will be Higgs.

Higgs himself knew he was the frontrunner, so on October 8, 2013, when the big announcement was due, his decision was… faded away.

He left his home, took a bus to a nearby town and Take refuge in a bar To enjoy a beer.

In one of his interviews, Claus asked Higgs what he was Effect After she won the Nobel Prize.

The answer is not stable Close.

“You ruined my life”Higgs told him.

“My existence is relatively security It’s over, I don’t enjoy that kind of publicity, my style is to work aloof and sometimes I have a great idea,” the physicist continued.

This way of being explains why he ran away on the day of the Nobel announcement.

According to Close, however, the hiding contained reverse effect What Higgs predicted.

Close asks: “What is the most attractive to a journalist?” “A man who has won a Nobel Prize and is ready to meet him, or a person who wins a Nobel Prize and Disappears? “.

In 2022, Peter Higgs was 93 years old and retired living in Edinburgh, Scotland.

He doesn’t use the internet, only the phone, and he lives in a building without an elevator where he has to go down 84 degrees to get to the street.

To close, it all shows Elusive And he is Peter Higgs, as elusive as the famous boson who spent years in hiding and by allowing himself to appear changed our perception of the universe forever.

Lovell Loxley

"Alcohol buff. Troublemaker. Introvert. Student. Social media lover. Web ninja. Bacon fan. Reader."

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