What has the discovery of the Higgs boson taught us?
The Higgs boson has a role in explaining the origin of mass, but the real excitement is how it confirms beliefs about how the Universe is put together.
Asked by: Len Forster, London
Most reports of the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva in 2012 focused on its role in explaining the origin of mass. But for physicists, the real excitement lay in how it confirmed their beliefs about how the Universe is put together.
For decades they’ve been searching for a ‘theory of everything’ to explain all the forces in the Universe. To guide their ideas, they’ve looked for similarities, or ‘symmetries’, between disparate forces. The problem is that these similarities are sometimes very well hidden.
In the 1960s, several theorists, including Peter Higgs at the University of Edinburgh, argued that the apparently radical differences between the weak nuclear force and the electromagnetic force would vanish if a particle with certain properties existed. Later dubbed the Higgs boson, its discovery boosted the confidence of physicists in their strategy for unifying the forces of nature.
Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.