So, to continue my recent theme, what are Higgs Bosons anyway? The people want to know.
The best explanation I’ve ever heard (and thanks for the reminder, Alison) is that by Professor David J. Miller of University College, London. So best, in fact, that in 1993 it won him the grand prize of a bottle of champagne in a challenge by the then British Science Minister, William Waldegrave, Baron Waldegrave of North Hill.
The prize was for the best one-page explanation of what the Higgs Boson is. Now, I encourage you to read Professor Miller’s full explanation (with cartoons!), but if your’re a busy professional who needs a slightly shorter version that doesn’t talk about “a lattice of positively charged crystal atoms”, here’s how it was told to me:
Imagine a room filled wall-to-wall with members of the British Conservative Party. They represent the Higgs field, which fills the universe wall-to-wall in the same way.
Next, imagine Margaret Thatcher enters the room. She is soon surrounded by party members, all wanting to ask her questions. They impede her progress, slowing her considerably as she tries to move through the room. This is how the Higgs field adds mass to particles and slows them down as they move through the universe.
Now, what if instead someone starts a rumour that she’s about to enter the room? The rumour itself moves from person to person, visible as little knots of Conservative Party members talking excitedly. These are Higgs Bosons – they’re just excitations of the Higgs field.
So really, at the Large Hadron Collider they’re looking for nothing more than a rumour. About Margaret Thatcher. Your homework now is to discuss what would happen if she were to turn up herself…