Millennium Post

The stars and we are made of this

The stars and we are made of this
With the breakthrough discovery of the Higgs boson, a historic milestone in science has been reached and a foundation for a larger understanding of physics has been laid. This discovery is important because this elusive particle may be key to the understanding of all matter and of how the universe works. The discovery confirms the standard model of physics, which is the most successful theory so far to elucidate how fundamental particles interact with the elementary forces of nature, thus providing an explanation of the underlying structure of the universe. It is to the credit of modern physics that it predicted the existence of this particle as early as the 1960s, in an effort to understand why some particles, the elementary building blocs of nature, had mass while others, such as the light carrying photons, did not. It was theoretical physicist Peter Higgs who proposed the existence of a sort of a force field, now known as the Higgs field, much like a magnetic field, which bathes the universe. When the other particles in the universe interact with the Higgs boson, they acquire the trait known as mass. Thus, the universe as we know it, with its shape and size, with its galaxies, stars, planets and life,  could not exist without its presence of this particle. Indeed, this particle was deemed so important by physicist Leon Lederman that he called it the God particle in his popular science book. Though this may overstate the importance of this particle, nonetheless, it does appear fundamental in some ways to the cosmos. The discovery is also a tribute to the many scientists who have collaborated around the world in this quest to create. It is through sifting the data about the debris of trillions of high energy collisions of protons at nearly the speed of light at  CERN's Large Hadron Collider, that the physicists have found traces of the Higgs boson.

The results are not perfect but they are five sigma of significance which means that there is only one chance in a million that what has been observed is a statistical fluke. It would not do, however, to exaggerate the importance of what has been discovered. Scientists have still to observe how this particle behaves and if it confirms theoretical predictions. On this will depend future theories in physics and explanations of matter. This discovery does not mean the end of physics, which is very far from a unified theory of everything. The quest to understand the essence of space, time, energy and matter is far from over and there remain many mysteries, such as the nature of 'dark matter', 'electroweak' interactions, or, indeed, the very birth of the universe. The discovery of the Higgs boson is, thus, not an end but a beginning. Meanwhile, this may be a good time to remember Satyendra Nath Bose, the Indian scientist after whom the boson is named.
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