Could the Higgs Discovery Change The Course Of Physics?
Sometimes I wonder what the Wright brothers would think if they time-traveled to the present and experienced commercial air travel.Interesting thought huh?
They might be horrified and depressed about the fact that, rather than marveling at the wonder of flight, we get annoyed when our seat-mates don’t close the window shades while we’re trying to watch a movie.
Wednesday’s announcement from CERN that physicists believe they’ve observed evidence of the Higgs boson particle is no doubt the first tender step into fabulous worlds of discovery.
Yes, let’s pause to pour the champagne and imagine the new insights to come. Yes, let’s bat our eyes at science, which always looks particularly dapper at moments like this. (And, yes, let’s gnash our teeth at the United State’s near-sightedness in canceling the Superconducting Super Collider, which most likely would have found the same evidence 20 years ago.)
Now, fast-forward past the celebration, the peer-reviewed papers, the endless analysis, the Nobel prizes, the technological implications, the fussy engineering, the patents, the patent lawsuits, the start-ups, and the market research. Here are some ways Higgs bosons might, someday, make people want to tear their hair out.
Sorry we’re late. We got stuck in the express lane.
Higgs bosons imply the existence of a Higgs field, which is envisioned as a “condensate” that slows down speed-of-light particles and encumbers them with mass. If we find a way to “turn off” the field or create a local anomaly, we could end up with super-fast, super-express highways with mass-on / mass-off ramps. Miss your exit, though, and your next U-turn could be 100 million miles ahead.
The new missing mass problem.
If the Higgs field imparts mass, then perhaps reversing the field could take mass away. I’m sure that, if at all possible, we’d find a way to develop and market this as a weight-loss technology. If the system isn’t calibrated perfectly, though, you might be “over-slimmed,” and, since no matter what happens with health insurance, chances are it still won’t cover elective procedures, you’ll be stuck having to pay for a field-reversal-reversal and THAT cost is the square of the original fee.
Oh no, you’re my WHAT?!
A particle that helps “mediate” between space and mass probably also relates to time. Why? Well, for one thing, an object’s mass determines a gravitational field, and gravity affects the apparent flow of time. And for another, every time a physicist says “space,” they’re probably looking for a way to also say “time,” because “spacetime” is really fun to say and — just like “sequestration” — everyone knows what it means even if they can’t tell you off the top of their heads.
So, adjusting the Higgs field could lead to all kinds of kill-your-grandfather time travel scenarios we’ve been warned about. It could also lead to time-travel scenarios no one really wants to think about… (Go ahead, think about them.) On the plus side, you could finally stop trying to clone your childhood pet and instead just tempo-port him from the past.
Fire code, anyone?
The particle physics menagerie is divided into two fundamental classes — fermions and bosons. One key difference is that fermions obey an exclusion rule (the Pauli Exclusion Principle) that says no two fermions can share the exact same state. They’re kind of like billiard balls or cars or people. If you try to put two of them in the same physical state, you’ll fail, get hurt, and/or be sued.
Bosons, on the other hand, aren’t bound by the exclusion principle. They can all share the same state, which isn’t a bad thing if bosons are like ideas and not like cars. If, however, we somehow use our newly found boson knowledge to make actual matter (like people) act like bosons, densely packed into the same state or space, there could be all kinds of problems.
European soccer games would be even more dangerous. It would take until summer to clear out Times Square after the New Year’s Eve ball drop. On the other hand, the top 1 percent could also include the 99 percent so that would solve that.
One conundrum still keeping physicists employed is the search for anti-matter. It’s a good thing scientists can’t find it, though, because if there were equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, then, yes, they’d annihilate one another and we’d have neutral, boring, there-oughtta-be-a-law-of-conservation-for-that symmetry. Instead, we have an asymmetry of matter and anti-matter that, thankfully for us, has allowed matter to “win.”
On the surface, the Higgs boson development doesn’t seem to have much to do with this anti-matter mystery (it’s its own anti-particle, actually), but, what if we found a way to let a Higgs boson look in a mirror? Upon seeing its own anti-matter reflection, it could spark a cataclysmic chain of matter/anti-matter annihilation that would make us wish the Large Hadron Collider actually HAD induced a black hole.
On a serious note…
In the flurry of news about the Higgs boson, the Indian physicist for whom all bosons are named — Satyendra Nath Bose — hasn’t gotten much attention. He and Einstein predicted and described how particles not bound by the Pauli Exclusion Principle might behave. At low temperatures, certain aggregates of particles “condense” into a single state, and strange things occur — like superfluids, which, as far as I know, haven’t yet become annoying. Source: Discovery News
Winning The Nobel Prize Would Mean Everything
Jonny Higgs, a 43-year-old musician from Edinburgh, Scotland, said the scientific recognition would mean the world to his father, as “the highest accolade that you can get as a scientist”. Prof Higgs’ colleagues and peers yesterday called for him to be honoured with a knighthood or Nobel Prize in recognition of his contribution to the understanding of the universe.
The physicist, now aged 83, was seen to brush a tear from his cheek as he listened to scientists from Cern in Geneva confirm the existence of a particle he first proposed nearly 50 years ago. One physicist said he was “amazed” Prof Higgs had not already been honoured, while another described him as a “real gentleman and a great scientist who is certainly worthy of a knighthood”.
Today, his son Jonny said of the Nobel Prize: “I think it would mean everything to him. It’s the highest accolade that you can get as a scientist really – it’s the big one.” In 1964, Prof Higgs and five other theoretical physicists – François Englert, Robert Brout, Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, and Tom Kibble – proposed the existence of an invisible field lying across the Universe and giving particles their mass.
Yesterday, scientists from the Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, announced they had discovered a subatomic particle consistent with the Higgs boson. A spokesman for Cern has hailed the search for the Higgs boson as putting “particle physics on the threshold of a new era” and spoke of “the new physics that is just over the horizon”. Professor Peter Clarke, from the University of Edinburgh, said the importance of the find to particle physics was akin to putting the foundations in a house.
Explaining that scientists had already based knowledge on Prof Higgs’ theory, he said: “Before this, it was like having the cornerstone or foundations of a building missing. “Now we know they are there, we know the building is sound.
“It is underpinning, verifying and bolstering belief in the theory; there is a lot less speculation today than there was yesterday. It will certainly now help us focus on the direction in which to develop thought and theory. “Brian Cox has given an excellent analogy when he said we have been floating around an ocean, with someone telling us to find land and not knowing which direction to start looking in. “Now, we know where the island is. We don’t know what’s on it, but we know there’s something.”
Yesterday, Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Physics at Surrey University, said: “Of all the people worthy of a knighthood I cannot think of anyone more deserving right now than Peter Higgs. “His incredible prediction almost half a century ago of the existence of a new particle that bears his name has turned out to be correct and will surely now revolutionise physics. “
Speaking from the conference in Geneva, Gerry Guralnik, one of the six physicists who proposed the idea of the Higgs Boson in 1954, said: “He should be [knighted]. He has made a great contribution to what looks like a great discovery.” Professor Andy Parker, from Cambridge University, said: “Peter Higgs is a real gentleman and a great scientist who is certainly worthy of a knighthood. “Finding this has taken many experimentalists 25 years as well, so it would be good to recognise the whole effort in some way.”
Prof Joe Incandela, spokesman for the CMS group at Cern, said: “He should definitely get a knighthood. All these guys [the theorists who proposed the Higgs] should be recognised for coming up with this theory 50 years ago. If it was up to me they would all get the Nobel Prize.” Professor Higgs has already modestly insisted the limelight should now be taken by the scientists who have proved that his theory is correct.