Monday, July 30, 2012

The God Particle

ATLAS Experiment 2012 CERN

What happens when we cut matter into smaller and smaller pieces? The ancient Greeks asked this question and came up with the word ‘atomos’, which means ‘uncuttable’  as a description of the smallest unit. Not being experimentalists, the Greeks had no way of verifying what the smallest unit of matter was.

Some 2,000 years later, thanks to huge advances in experimental physics, we now know that the atom is not indivisible. Using electron microscopes that can actually photograph single atoms, and by building bubble chambers and powerful accelerators, scientists were able to ‘split open’ the atom and find a zoo of smaller particles that make up matter. They found 12 elementary particles, which seem to occur in families of three: 6 quarks and 6 leptons.

Looking at a single atom, each is composed of electrons, protons and neutrons (except hydrogen that has 1 electron and 1 proton). Every proton and neutron is made up of even smaller particles called quarks which exist in groups of three. In addition, there are two other elementary particles: the first is the electron (3 types) and the second is neutrinos (3 types) called leptons, which in Greek means 'small'. These particles have no further structure that we know of and are called elementary particles. They are the very ‘building blocks’ of all matter. In addition, there exists particles called bosons such as the photon that transmit forces among the elementary particles. For example, light is made up of photons, the better-known boson responsible for mediating the electromagnetic force. In this figure the 4 purple boxes represent 4 bosons that transmit forces.

And now we come to the Higgs boson, which stands out from all other bosons, because it does not transmit forces like the other three types of bosons. It transforms energy into matter, as in Einstein's equation, E=mcThe British physicist Peter Higgs, almost five decades ago, hypothesized that a boson should exist that would be responsible for giving mass to the particles created at the Big Bang. The existence of this boson was recently proven experimentally at CERN and was named after the scientist who predicted its existence – Higgs.

The photo at the top of this posting is a simulation of data collected following a collision of 2 protons. A Higgs boson is produced which decays into 2 jets of hadrons (heavy particles) and 2 electrons. The Higgs boson is responsible for holding everything together in the universe because by giving particles mass, they become subject to gravitational force. Otherwise, without mass, particles would simply fly apart. Scripture says, “He (God) is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17) Perhaps that is why the Higgs boson is called the God Particle. It holds the universe together and without it, nothing material would exist.

To watch a simplified explanation of the Higgs boson see: Dr. Don Lincoln from Fermi Labs explains the Higgs boson

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