Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The God Particle

The National Geographic site posts a very funny article about the Large Hadron Collider. While it assumes general familiarity with physics, it uses a goofy sense of humor to illustrate it's points. After a quick overview of 20th century particle physics, the article turns to the search for the Higgs particle:

There's one puzzle piece in particular that physicists hope to pick out of the debris from the LHC's high-energy collisions. Some call it the God particle.

The first thing you learn when you ask scientists about the God particle is that it's bad form to call it that. The particle was named a few years back by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman, who has a knack for turning a phrase. Naturally the moniker took root among journalists, who know a good name for a particle when they hear one (it beats the heck out of the muon or the Z-boson).

The preferred name for the God particle among physicists is the Higgs boson, or the Higgs particle, or simply the Higgs, in honor of the University of Edinburgh physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed its existence more than 40 years ago. Most physicists believe that there must be a Higgs field that pervades all space; the Higgs particle would be the carrier of the field and would interact with other particles, sort of the way a Jedi knight in Star Wars is the carrier of the "force." The Higgs is a crucial part of the standard model of particle physics—but no one's ever found it.

Not your usual National Geographic article, but very well done.

As a side note, the article dismisses the idea that the LHC will make a black hole which will swallow up the Earth. This fear needs the smack-down at every opportunity. Our humble planet is bombarded with particle collisions all the time (in the form of cosmic rays) which dwarf any collisions the LHC will ever produce. Somehow we have endured.

Still, lolscience posted a fun riff off the photo National Geographic used:

The tag line reads:
"Now witness the true power of this fully functional large hadron collider"

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