The Higgs Boson and me

by | August 2, 2012
Category: Uncategorized

Anyone who teaches in Frontiers of Science at Columbia gets asked questions about anything scientific that makes it to the front pages of a newspaper. Here’s my response to the question: what does the Higgs Boson mean to me?

The question it begins to answer is, why does anything exist? That is, where does mass – stuff – come from? The current theory lays it to the interaction of energy with a field that pre-existed the big-bang origin of the expanding universe. This field, postulated by a scientist named Higgs decades ago, interacts with different energies [photons] emerging from the big bang, with different effects. Some energies pass through easily, others find passage difficult.

The prediction is that all of the energy of the universe is given mass to the degree it is slowed by the Higgs field. A prediction of this notion is that at certain energies [remember, mass and energy are interchangeable, E = mC-squared], a mass will emerge because at precisely those energies the Higgs field is engaged effectively.

Why is that, who knows? But the prediction was born out when a vast amount of energy produced a particle – the Higgs Boson – with precisely the very large mass predicted by the model that builds upon this otherwise ad hoc field. Boson derives from the Greek for Heavy.

Luckily for us, none of this in any way shadows our free will nor diminishes the obligation we have to make it bend to the the obligations of caring for others, nor does any of it inform us as we wonder at the notion of an informing presence teaching us of good and bad from entirely outside the physical, knowable universe. Nor, sadly, does it help in the slightest to explain crazy murderous behavior in Colorado, nor in Bulgaria.

-Dr. Robert Pollack, Director

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