The Large Hadron Collider. Photo credit: ConradMelvin, http://flic.kr/p/99Qca9
The announcement that physicists may have caught a glimpse of the so-called “God particle” has sent the science world into a frenzy of excitement. The Higgs boson subatomic particle, considered the key to the origin of mass, has eluded scientists for years. But researchers at European particle physics laboratory Cern now say they could be close to finding the missing particle after discovering evidence that hints at its existence inside the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
But for those whose interest in physics is confined to idly watching Brian Cox on television with the sound turned down, why does this discovery really matter?
Masters of the universe. We actually know very little about the universe we live in, wrote Joel Achenbach on a Washington Post blog, so the news from Cern is a cause for celebration: “Right now we’re getting close (apparently) to discovering a basic component of the physical world. The nature of the Higgs, if it exists, could help us understand a whole lot of other stuff about the universe.”
The missing piece of the puzzle. Writing in The Times (£), William Waldegrave explained that the Higgs is important to understanding why the universe exists in the first place: “If we cannot understand mass ( and gravity) we are lacking a big bit of what would be a fully satisfying explanation of why there is a Universe at all.” Waldegrave said that the desire to understand the origins of the universe if part of being human, and so the millions spent on the LHC will be money well spent if it helps to find Higgs.
Changing physics as we know it. The discovery of the Higgs boson particle would “point us further toward how the universe really works”, said Peter Pachal at Mashable. And according to Pachal, the existence – or not – of the particle has the potential to change the face of modern physics: “The Higgs boson is predicted by the Standard Model, which is kind of a user manual for modern-day physics. If the Higgs exists, then the Standard Model is correct, and physics as we know it lives to see another day. If there is no Higgs, the model is clearly incomplete, and new physics will be needed”, he wrote.
Particle physics can help society. “While neutrinos and the Higgs boson may seem distant from everyday life right now, I would bet that we will use them to make money and improve our lives in the long run”, said Cern’s John Butterworth on The Guardian Comment is Free blog, pointing out that other aspects of physics have helped to create modern technology.
Engaging the public. Dr Tom Whytnie argued in The Telegraph that the most important point at this stage is that Cern scientists were willing to release their findings even though they don’t yet have a definitive answer as to the existence of Higgs: “This is science in progress. It doesn’t matter where we end up – we’re inviting you to join us on our journey.”