What new insights has the Higgs boson given us?
Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider have so far confirmed what physicists have suspected, but they’re still hoping for some surprises.
Asked by: Andy Fletcher, London
The discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 led to global headlines, and the award of Nobel Prizes to, among others, the British theorist Peter Higgs. He was one of a small group who argued that the particle was essential for explaining that most basic property of matter: mass. The Higgs is linked to an all-pervasive energy field that makes particles behave as if they have mass.
Since its discovery, experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN have probed the properties of this bizarre particle. So unstable it’s never been directly observed, the Higgs decays into other particles, and studying these could give new insights into the forces of nature.
According to current theories, the Higgs can decay into at least eight different pairs of particles. Yet the most common outcome – two so-called bottom quarks – has proved the hardest to confirm. That gave hope that something unexpected might be found. But the LHC team has recently announced they’ve detected the decay into bottom quarks – and it’s right in line with the Standard Model (the theory that classifies elementary particles and describes three of the four known fundamental forces). Physicists are far from delighted, however. They were hoping to get glimpses of radical new phenomena, but as yet nothing has turned up.
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Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.
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