This past week, scientists at CERN laboratories in Switzerland announced they'd found the elusive Higgs boson (or at least a Higgs-like boson). Great news! But what the heck is a Higgs boson? Let's break this question down.
Who is Higgs?
Peter Higgs is a particle theorist--a physicist who specializes in studying the tiny particles that serve as building blocks for everything. In the 1960s, Higgs and five others came up with a theory, and a theoretical particle to go with it.
What is a boson?
A boson is a sub-atomic particle. Say you have a water molecule--that's two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (or H2O.) A boson is smaller than those atoms.
What does the Higgs boson do?
When you get down to the really small scale in physics, you talk about how particles interact with fields. In this case, the Higgs Field is a field that gives particles mass as they move through it. Higgs bosons are the sort of currency of the Higgs Field.
The Higgs Field and its associated boson fit in with what scientists call the Standard Model in physics. The field and boson help provide an explanation of how things have mass.
So what does finding the Higgs boson mean?
Well, if the boson they found is a Higgs boson, it would appear to confirm the Higgs Field part of the Standard Model. What can you do with a Higgs boson? I'm not sure. Just as the boson is a tiny particle that is a building block for bigger things, I think this discovery is a building block for bigger discoveries. We can't stop to rest now. Finding the Higgs boson is just a good start.
If you could tackle any problem in science, what would you pick?