Higgs Bosons! Getch ‘yer Higgs Bosons Here!
Well, at the very least it means that physics hasn’t been barking at the moon the last 40 years or more, that quantum particle science is right.
The good folks at PHD Comics made an animation featuring American particle physicist Daniel Whiteson back in November 2011 that explains what this is all about.
Since that little clip was made, the gigantic particle accelerator at CERN has likely confirmed the existence of the Higgs Boson, the little blip of data that Dr. Whiteson describes. It’s a pretty big deal, and not just because we are spared the ugly sight of quantum physics crashing down around our ears.
It’s also a triumph for science as a methodology. Science – specifically, Dr. Robert Higgs and several others – predicted the existence of the subatomic particle. More importantly, in 1966 Higgs said, “This is what it will “look” like, this is how it will decay and this is what the decay products will look like.” Those predictions allowed tests to me made to see if the predictions could be confirmed. To use the precise term, the predictions were falsifiable, they could be proven true or false. This is what science is, and how it differs from superstition.
The honor of discovery could have gone to the United States. The U.S. started to build a superconducting supercollider, the instrument required to generate the energies required to perform these tests. But Congress abandoned the U.S.’s project in 1993, ceding the ground to the international effort at CERN.
But that’s a battle long since lost. This week is a triumph for theoretical quantum chromodynamics. Our understanding of the universe is just a little better. Science has a possible path to understanding other puzzles, including dark matter and dark energy.
Oh, and Stephen Hawking is $100 poorer. He had a bet that the Higgs Boson wouldn’t be found.