This week, particle physicists working with the Large Hadron Collider have first seen how the Higgs boson decays into bottom quarks. If you are the rare member of the general public who fully understands what that means and why it is important to us ordinary people, you can jump further.
For the rest, let's talk a little bit about why you should take care of things like bosons and quarks, which are the infinitesimal particles that make up everything in the universe.
Particle physics is the study of ingredients and recipes that "bake" our reality. Usually we think it's important to know what we eat and drink, so it's worth looking into the ingredients of existence as well?
OK, maybe you are still not enthusiastic about such things, which unlike a decadent brownie we can not see or really grasp in our daily lives. This is fair. Instead, consider that similar scientific efforts to understand the unseen nature of our Universe have brought with them unforeseen breakthroughs and benefits that we all enjoy, from our global real-time communication networks to the defibrillator that could one day save your life.
It may be that our understanding of bosons, quarks, and their side effects one day will help us develop new, cleaner sources of energy, travel to other solar systems, or live a longer, healthier life.
Thus, for thea particle that was predicted by physicists for decades, but first . It's important because its interactions with a universal energy field called the Higgs field explain how subatomic particles get their mass.
"Before the Higgs idea, the mass was completely mysterious, it did not seem to have an origin," the FermiLab physicist and Higgs boson co-discoverer Don Lincoln told me via email.
For a deeper understanding of what the Higgs boson is and how it interacts with the Higgs field, Lincoln interrupts it with a famous analogy in the TED video below a few years ago.
What's new this week is that for the first time physicists have found the most common by-product of the Higgs boson. This is important because the volatile particle is unstable and breaks down so quickly that it can not be directly observed. So it is actually sought by looking for the byproducts of its rapid decay, like a rotten egg, if one smells only of the smell.
"Like an apple breaking on the ground, the Higgs boson, through its interaction with the space-time tissue, transforms into the last" parts "that we measure in our experiment," said Caltech physics professor Harvey Newman.
Scientists predicted that Higgs bosons would decay into a pair of different particles about 60 percent of the time, the so-called bottom quarks. Most of the time, they decay into pairs of W or Z bosons, as well as other types of elementary particles.
So it should make sense to search for Higgs bosons by searching for the bottom quarks they most often generate.
"But there is a complication," Lincoln explained. "Higgs bosons are very, very, rare." They occur in about a collision of every billion … Most of the more common collisions are made by the strong nuclear force that makes (lower quark pairs) all the time -produced bottom quarks flood the Higgs-produced like a whisper in a hurricane.
So in the end, the researchers used less common decay products to find the first Higgs boson in 2012.
"Researchers They could not confirm that Higgs bosons have even decayed into bottom quarks. It was a bit embarrassing, "Lincoln said.
It's almost like discovering a new variety of popcorn kernels that are invisible until heated in. Now imagine you have your popcorn in a white chamber heat filled with pieces of white styrofoam that look just like perfectly fluffy popcorn, and if you look into the chamber from the outside, you can only detect your finding by pointing to the rare appendix cores that could not pop and Talk about embarrassment.
Researchers used a new technique to discover the most common byproduct of the Higgs boson in the form of bottom quark pairs, so it could be in our popcorn analogy be as if you were looking at the chamber in the infrared to be able to separate still warm popcorn from the heat-reflecting Styrofoam pieces.
Jason Nielsen from the Santa Cruz Inst Itut for particle physics has its own metaphor to finally describe the main decay mode of the Higgs:
"If you could only observe the distinctive trunk and tail of an animal, you could convince yourself that it was an elephant is. You could even start from the animal's body based on your expectations, but it is much more satisfying to pull back the curtain and directly observe the main part of the elephant! "
But the discovery of this week could not only be satisfying for the researchers, but could also tell us something essential about the universe and all of its mass."
"If you look at the Higgs field as a kind of 'syrup' in the Mixing particles – that means we seem to need only one type of syrup, even for very different types of particles. V3.espacenet.com/textdoc? "said David Charlton, particle physicist and former spokesman for the LHC ATLAS collaboration,
In other words, this may be the week we've discovered that not only sweet syrup on our pancakes and waffles adds bulk to our waistlines but the sweetest syrup of all could surround us and mass literally gives everything.
If we continue to identify all the ingredients in the particle pit of the universe, we certainly have even tastier ergs
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