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Physicists Scott Dodelson, left, and Michel Spiro answered audience questions and theories on the Higgs boson particle at Thursday's lecture.

Quarks and Corks: Taking on the Higgs boson over wine and cheese

by Luke Rague
May 21, 2014



One method for detecting the Higgs boson involves fusing two gluons to a top quark. The Higgs boson exists for a fraction of a second and then decays back into a top quark and two gamma rays.




A second method for detecting the Higgs boson involves the same particles going into the collision. However, when it decays it creates two z bosons, which then decay into two leptons each.

The Higgs boson opens the door to understanding the creation of the universe and how particles interact. It may pave the way to understanding the mysteries of the nature of dark matter.

Physicists explained the discovery and importance of the Higgs boson at the Alliance Française de Chicago.

“What’s so special about giving mass, when there are already so many particles out there that don’t have any?” said publisher Kathy Lahr, who attended the program.

Lahr cut to the heart of Thursday’s presentation at Alliance headquarters in downtown Chicago: Why is the Higgs boson so important? Why has it been dubbed the ‘God Particle’?

Scott Dodelson, a particle physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, said that many in his field don’t like the term ‘God particle,’ bestowed by Nobel Laureate and former Fermilab director Leon Lederman. But Dodelson quite likes it, he said “it conveys that it’s important. It was the missing piece of the puzzle.”

The name also comes from the arduous search for it, said Michel Spiro, the former director of CERN. “It took a long time to find, so they said it was the ‘goddamned particle.’”

The Higgs boson creates an energy field that gives mass to matter. The particle and the energy field it emits have been theorized since the 1960s, but eluded discovery for 50 years.

When the Higgs boson was proven to exist by CERN scientists in July 2012, it filled a gap in the understanding of the Standard Model, the theory on how all matter interacts. CERN operates the most powerful atomic particle accelerator in the world in an underground ring that crosses between Switzerland and France.  

“The goal of physics is to make things simpler,” Dodelson said. “We wanted to explain mass in a simple way with this one thing, and it did it.”

Attended by students, teachers and about 50 others, the presentation explained the dense topic in easily understood ways, attempting to help people grasp exactly what the Higgs boson is and why researchers were so excited when it was found.

For one, the Higgs boson and the field it creates contributes to our understanding of inflation, the general theory on how the universe is expanding from a single point nearly 14 billion years ago. The Higgs boson and fluctuations in the energy of its field are a possible explanation for how the universe was stretched and driven to rapidly expand.

The Higgs boson may also aid researchers in their search for dark matter, Dodelson said. Dark matter and dark energy are theorized to make up about 95 percent of the universe, but they haven’t been detected because they don’t emit light or interact with other particles in any way researchers can yet detect.

The life process for Higgs bosons still is not fully understood, and it’s theorized they may be decaying in to dark matter, among other particles, shortly after being created by colliding particles into each other at near light speed in a particle accelerator.

Assuming this is the case, researchers just need to find a way of detecting dark matter, Dodelson said.
“This is a physicist’s way of saying we’re looking for a needle in a hay stack.”

The event was part of French Innovation Week in Chicago organized by the French Embassy.