In the first billionth of a second after the Big Bang which occurred 13.7 billion years ago, the universe was a gigantic soup of particles facing around at the speed of light without any mass to speak of. Scientists have spotted a gap between what we can see and what must be out there. That gap must be filled by something we don’t fully understand, which they have termed ‘dark matter.’ Galaxies are also hurtling away from each other faster than the forces we know about suggest they should. This gap is filled by ‘dark energy’. This poorly understood pair is believed to make up a whopping 96 per cent of the mass and energy of the cosmos.
The Higgs boson was hypothesised by groups of scientists independently. It is the crucial missing particle in an otherwise enormously successful theoretical framework called the Standard Model. The Higgs boson exerts the Higgs field throughout the universe and is responsible for imparting mass to elementary particles.
The Standard Model describes the basic building blocks of the universe. The Standard Model is breakthrough to physics, what the theory of evolution is to biology. It is the best explantion physicist have of how the building blocks of the universe are put together. The Standard Model describes that the matter created by Big Bang is made up of 12 sub atomic particles and 6 force carriers. These sub atomic particles are classified as Leptons, the particles which exist on their own and Quarks, the particles which only exist bound together.
These sub atomic particles were discovered as Electron (1897), Electro neutrino (1956), Down (1977) Up (1994). Most matter on earth is made from these four particles. The later two are QuarkS. The former two are Leptons. The remaining 8 sub atomic particles are Leptons and they are Muon (1937), Muon neutrino (1962), Tan (1975), Tan neutrino (1978), Strange (1947), Charm (1973), Bottom (1977), and Top (1994). These 8 particles are found in cosmic rays. Out of 6 force carriers, five are Photon (1900) Z boson (1983), W + boson (1983), W – boson (1983) and Gluon (1979).
The sixth force has been discovered now as ‘Higgs boson’. This is vital since Higgs boson gives matter mass and holds the universe together. This Higgs field is a theoretical and invisible energy field that pervades the whole cosmos.
The ‘Higgs’ of Higgs boson is well known to refer to Peter Higgs, the British researcher who in 1964, did much of the conceptual ground work for the presence of elusive particle. ‘Boson’ owes its name to the pioneering work of he late Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose.
The pioneering work of late Abdus Salam, Pakistani Nobel Laureate, who shared the Nobel Prize with Steven Weinberg, independently predicted the existence of a sub atomic particle now called the Higgs boson.
The search for it only began in earnest in the 1980s, first in Fermilab’s now moth-balled Tevatron particle collider near Chicago and later in a similar machine at CERN (Centre for Nuclear Research, Geneva ), but most intensively since 2010 with the start up of the European Centre, LHC ( Large Hadron Collider)
Albert Einsteen’s theories developed and built on the work of Isaac Newton. CERN has the potential to do the same to Einstein’s work.
LHC is the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator, a 27 kilometre looped pipe that sits in a tunnel 100 metre underground on the Swiss- French border. The Big Bang condition was artificially created in LHC.
CERN consists of two teams viz ATLAS and CMS, hunting for the Higgs boson, each with 3000 members of whom about 2000 each are scientists and Ph.D. students. Over a hundred of these scientists on CMS are of Indian origin, mostly participating through collaborating institutes of India viz. Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Baba Atomic Research Centre (BARC) Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP). The Department of Atomic Energy has been a major provider of instrumentation for the LHC. A team from SINP, Kolkata contributed to the software for the detectors used for experiments.
The discovery of the Higgs boson won’t change people’s lives but will help explain the underpinning of the universe. It will explain why fundamental particles have mass. These particles are the building blocks of the universe. Mass is a trait that combined with gravity to give an object weight. The idea is that other particles attract Higgs boson and more they attract, the bigger their mass will be.
Based on the experiments held by CERN it is clear that the results are consistent with each other within experiment errors. The immediate next step for these experiments is first to analyse data from the remaining three channels of Higgs decay and check for consistency.
True to the scientific method that everything is verifiable and to be supported with proven results, with all humility and openness. Rolf Heur, the Director General of CERN says, “As a layman, we have it. We have observed a new particle consistent with a Higgs boson. We also now know which direction to go. This is just the beginning of a long journey.”
(Details collected from the news coverage of The Hindu, The New Indian Express, The Times of India, The Business Standard)