After a hiatus for a hurricane and a trip to a conference in Asia, I am adding one more article to my series on How the Higgs Field Works, following my series of articles on Fields and Particles. (These sets of articles require a little math and physics background, the sort you’d get in your first few months of a beginning university or pre-university physics class. I’m still thinking about how to structure a similar set of articles that require no math or physics; that’s much harder, of course!)
The first article in the series explained the basic Idea behind how the Higgs field works. Then came an article about why and how the Higgs field becomes non-zero, and a third concerning how the Higgs particle arises as the quantum of waves that oscillate around the non-zero value of the Higgs field. The new article tries to clarify why there’s no alternative to introducing a Higgs field, explaining that it’s otherwise impossible to reconcile two apparently contradictory features of our world: a mass for the electron (and many other types of known particles) and the properties of the weak nuclear force.
This article contains the most elaborate equations and concepts that I’ve had to introduce to my readers, so it won’t be suitable for everyone (though it still only requires some first-year physics/math.) But on the other hand, it seems necessary for me to write it, since it’s the only place that I’ve explained not only why the Higgs field can give mass to the known particles, but why it (or something very much like it) must do so.
(Note that in these articles I’m mainly concentrating on the simplest type of Higgs, the Standard Model Higgs field and particle. However, most of the basic concepts in these articles apply even for more complicated cases.)
When I wrote my article last week about the relation between the Higgs and gravity, emphasizing that there really was no relation at all, I said that the Higgs field is not the universal giver of mass. I cited four reasons:
- The Higgs field does not give an atomic nucleus all of its mass, and since the nucleus is the vast majority of the mass of an atom, that means it does not provide all of the mass of ordinary matter.
- Black holes appear at the centers of galaxies, and they appear to be crucial to galaxy formation; but the Higgs field does not provide all of a black hole’s mass. In fact the Higgs field’s contribution to a black hole’s mass can even be zero, because black holes can in principle be formed from massless objects, such as photons.
- There is no reason to think that dark matter, which appears to make up the majority of the masses of galaxies and indeed of all matter in the universe, is made from particles that get all of their mass from the Higgs field.
- The Higgs field, though it provides the mass for all other known particles with masses, does not provide the Higgs particle with its mass.
Although it doesn’t matter too much to the main point of the Higgs-and-gravity article (since the first three points are not in question), the editor of a leading physics journal, Robert Garisto, took issue with the fourth point, arguing that I was making a statement that really wasn’t right, or at least is too strong. His argument has some merit, though in the end, I stick with my statement. I think it’s worth describing what he had in mind (as best I understand it) and why I feel strongly that one should think about it differently. There are some semantic aspects to the disagreement, but there are also some interesting and important subtle scientific points. I don’t want to suggest that this discussion is really that big a deal — the very fact that we can argue about whether the Higgs field does or doesn’t provide the Higgs particle with its mass distinguishes the Higgs particle from, say, the W particle, whose mass indisputably arises from the Higgs field. But there’s something to learn here about quantum field theory and how the Higgs mechanism works. Continue reading
With my series of articles on Fields and Particles complete, I’m continuing my series of articles on How the Higgs Field Works. (These sets of articles require a little math and physics background, the sort you’d get in your first few months of a beginning university or pre-university physics class.)
The first article in the new series was an overview of The Basic Idea behind how the Higgs field works. (In these articles I’m mainly concentrating on the simplest type of Higgs, the Standard Model Higgs field and particle.) Then came an article about why and how the Higgs field becomes non-zero. And the newest article explains how the Higgs particle arises as the quantum of waves that oscillate around the non-zero value of the Higgs field, and how its mass is determined by the equation of motion of the Higgs field.
Following on my series of articles on Fields and Particles, I’m building my next series of articles, on How the Higgs Field Works. (These sets of articles require a little math and physics background, the sort you’d get in your first few months of a beginning university or pre-university physics class.)
The first article in the new series was an overview of The Basic Idea behind how the Higgs field works. I recently revised it to make it easier to read.
The next article, just completed, is about why and how the Higgs field becomes non-zero — to the extent that we understand it. (The following article will explain how the Higgs particle arises.)
[Long silence should be over for now; personal issues had to take precedence for a little while.]
Back to building up articles on how the Higgs field works! As part of the necessary background, I’ve added another general article on how particles and fields interact with each other to my series on Particles and Fields (with a little math — first-year university level.)
This one explains, among other things, how a small modification of the equations of motion for fields allows two particles of one type to annihilate and create a third one of a different type. Examples of such phenomena include the collision and annihilation of a quark and an antiquark to form a Z particle, or the collision and annihilation of two gluons to form a Higgs particle. Particle decay is often just the time-reversed process.
Moreover, similar modifications of the equations are essential in allowing the Higgs field to give mass to other particles.
So this is one of the most important articles, and one of the most sophisticated, to appear on this website so far. Although there are a couple of animations to help you visualize what is going on, to understand the text you will want to have read the other articles in the Particles and Fields series first.
Last week I finished up a set of articles explaining what Fields and “Particles” are. These articles require a small amount of math and physics, the sort you’d get in an advanced pre-university or a beginning university course.
[Articles with no technical requirements will come soon; in the meantime, try my widely read article on Why the Higgs Particle Matters.]
The Particles and Fields articles are a prerequisite to the next set of articles, which will explain what the (simplest type of) Higgs field is and how it does what it does. The first article, just completed, outlines the basic idea. Future articles to appear over coming days and weeks will fill in many details.