The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What is the Question?
-Leon M. Lederman and Dick Teresi-
There are a few types of elementary particles (i.e. not composed of other particles) which show off different behaviours. They behave in accordance with their characteristics (being massive vs massless, electrically charged vs non-charged, non-interacting vs weakly-interacting or strongly-interacting and so on.) Physics explains the interplay between behaviours and the aforementioned features through the concept of fields. A field consists of a perturbation in a region of space caused by the presence of certain particles. When we deal with particles of matter, in which the most basic building blocks are the so-called fermions, the field makes them be compelled to motion.
For example, nearby meteorites are prone to fall towards the Earth because its fermions determine a gravitational field that influences other particles of matter. In the same way, charged particles generate an electromagnetic field that makes charged particles being repelled or attracted by other charged particles. So these fields explain the origin of some forces in nature, such as gravity and electromagnetism, and are known as force fields.
Motion's laws depicted by Newton link the behaviour of matter with its mass (for example, the bigger the mass, the bigger the gravity, and the further away from each other the masses are, the weaker the gravity between them.) The concept of mass is evidenced by the fact that every object resists attempts to change its motion state. This property (inertia) is ruled by a principle in which the bigger the mass, the greater the inertia. However, no explanation currently exists to answer why it should have mass in the first place.
There was no explanation for this until Peter W. Higgs, along with several other scientists, predicted in 1964 the existence of a new elementary particle, the Higgs boson. He suggested that a mass field, made up of his tiny bosons, might be spread through the universe, so that the particles of matter have been interacting with it since the big bang took place, 13.7 billion years ago, to keep them in their inertial state. In order to modify their motion, it is necessary to overcome the mass field influence.
Higgs postulated these bosons could only be found on their own at enormous temperatures, like those in the early post-big bang. Afterwards, the universe became cooler and they cannot be seen in nature any more, except perhaps in clusters, with no single boson sadly isolated.
In order to look for them, physicists have been trying to mimic the condition of high temperatures and high density that occurred for a short period after the big bang by means of bringing particles up to more than 99 per cent of light speed in accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Once the obtained conditions replicate those in which bosons were capable of being in an isolated state it might be possible to discover them and study their properties. (1)
Recently physicists at CERN have achieved high-power collisions of elementary particles in their attempt to create mini-versions of the Big Bang, setting a record for the energy of particle conditions. They said the experiment was a major breakthrough because a point where nobody was before had been reached. (2)
In summary, scientists sifting debris from high-energy proton collisions at CERN have recorded hints of the Higgs boson existence. Perhaps soon they will have enough data to prove whether the hypothetical particle is a reality.