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Fermions, bosons and Higgs – oh my!

By Pat, 13 July 2012 News

Diagram representing the subatomic collisions that may have revealed the existence of the Higgs Boson.

This drawing represents how the Higgs boson might be created. The different coloured lines show the paths of different particles.
Image: ATLAS Experiment © 2012 CERN

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have confirmed the discovery of a particle with properties that match those of the Higgs boson. The announcement has created a lot of excitement – why all the fuss?

There is more to the Universe than just atoms. In fact, there is a whole range of tiny particles out there.

One group of particles is the fermions, which includes protons, neutrons and electrons. You can think of them as building blocks that make up matter.

The other group of particles, the bosons, are a bit trickier to understand. Rather than thinking of bosons as blocks of stuff, think of them as tiny messages that communicate how other particles should behave. An example of a boson is the photon, a tiny particle of light. Different bosons interact with different fermions, forcing them to stick together or move apart.

There is a theory that predicts a set of bosons and fermions, called the Standard Model. The Standard Model grew over a long time and proved very useful. The Higgs boson was the missing piece, so finding it makes the theory stronger.

The message the Higgs boson carries tells other particles how to move ¬– we see this as mass. Some particles, such as photons, zip through this field and don’t interact with it. They have no mass. Other particles do interact with the Higgs bosons. This interaction is similar to the drag you feel moving through water.

Unfortunately the Higgs boson disappears nearly as soon as it appears, making it difficult to detect. One way to detect the Higgs boson is to smash protons together at high speeds. The energy of these collisions could be enough to create Higgs bosons, which would then decay into other particles that live long enough for physicists to detect.

Two different research teams independently analysed the data from experiments at the LHC. After looking at the results of millions of collisions, they both concluded that there was a particle consistent with the Higgs boson. More experiments are needed to verify their findings, but evidence of this elusive particle may finally have been spotted.

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