The Higgs Boson for not-so-dummies

By Marcus Wilson 11/09/2012 3

A few months ago I agreed to do a physics talk for the Hamilton Junior Naturalists (Junats). When pushed for a title I decided on the Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs Boson. Hmm. How does one go about explaining the Higgs Boson to an 11 year old? (I’ve got to Friday evening to come up with a decent answer). In fact, how does one explain the Higgs Boson to a physicist (i.e. me)?  Particle Physicists, especially the ultra-theoretical ones, speak a language that is almost incomprehensible to everyone else, including other physicists.Think of it as being a being a kiwi trying to listen to a broad Glasgow accent. If I listen carefully to a particle physicist, I can hear words that I recognize, but just what they are trying to get across I can only get an inkling of.

Here’s an amusing but not terribly helpful video on minutephysics on why the Higgs is just so important.

Did you get that?  (If you did, please explain it to me.) What irritates me about this video is the way that maths is used as an excuse for something being the way that it is. "Toss in the ingredients (in this case the Higgs field), let the math machine ferment, and out comes the answer (in this case mass)" Particle physicists, you have got to do better than that. You can’t say that something is the way that it is because the maths says so. No, you’ve created the maths to describe the situation you have. Sure, there can be unexpected solutions that pop out that in fact represent reality, and that gives you confidence that you are on the right track with your mathematical description, but, fundamentally, you have to be describing something PHYSICAL for it to be at all meaningful.  Maths would exist quite happily in a universe of complete nothingness – physics, on the other hand, wouldn’t.

If you are like me and need a bit more help here, there’s a few more videos to choose from.   (Fermilab)  (Brian Cox’s extended effort).

Enjoy. I’ll let you know how Friday night goes.



3 Responses to “The Higgs Boson for not-so-dummies”

  • I’m actually kind of pleased to hear the club is still going. I was a member of it. (I should add that 11 is the youngest age of the members, not the universal).

    Many years ago (decades?) I remember a talk from a Waikato physicist on black-holes & the like, which went down quite well. It made a nice change from birds, rocks and trees 🙂