One year ago today, I arrived, bleary-eyed from my overnight flight, at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, host of the Large Hadron Collider. Everyone at the lab was very excited, anticipating what promised to be the biggest event during my career in particle physics — the announcement of the discovery, or at least strong evidence, of something resembling a type of Higgs particle. The following day did not disappoint, nor did the ensuing weeks of thinking and discussion and hard work. A year later, we no longer wonder whether this is a type of Higgs particle; instead we have moved on to ask which type it is, and whether it has cousins — other types of Higgs particles still waiting to be found.
Since that time, I’ve been working to find new methods of explaining particle physics, and specifically the Higgs field and particle, to a variety of audiences, with a diversity of backgrounds and with different amounts of time to spare.
- For the average person who wants a short story, I wrote a brief article about “Why the Higgs Particle Matters”, my most popular piece ever.
- Then I wrote a long sequence of articles — actually two sequences, one about fields and particles, and one specifically about how the Higgs field works — intended for people who have had the equivalent of first-year university physics.
- I recently gave a set of four 90-minute classes intended for highly interested non-experts, assuming little or no background in math or science.
- And I developed a new one-hour public talk (see below), entitled “The Quest for the Higgs Boson”, for a general audience, in which I tried to explain, as accurately as possible but with no math at all, what fields and particles are, how a Higgs field can give mass to the known elementary particles, and what finding and studying Higgs particles is all about.
That one-hour talk was first delivered a few months back, as part of the Nick and Maggie DeWolf Public Lecture Series, at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colorado. It was filmed by a local TV station, GrassRoots Community Television. And they have made this film available online. Click here to reach the GrassRoots TV page, then click “Watch Now” on the right-hand side. [It’s a .wmv file that should, after a little delay, begin streaming; if it doesn’t, it will laboriously download, which may take quite a while. In any case you’ll want a good internet connection. And if it is super-slow, try again another day; their server could easily get overloaded, I suspect.]
By the way, the talk is preceded by about 5 minutes of introductory remarks by Professor Howard Haber (a Higgs-particle expert who has been mentioned before on this blog), and concludes with about 20 minutes of questions from the audience, so altogether the film is almost 90 minutes long.