Of Particular Significance

Tag: BlackHoles

A quick reminder, to those in the northwest’s big cities, that I will be giving two talks about my book in the next 48 hours:

Hope to see some of you there! (You can keep track of my speaking events at my events page.)

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON April 17, 2024

The idea that a field could be responsible for the masses of particles (specifically the masses of photon-like [“spin-one”] particles) was proposed in several papers in 1964. They included one by Peter Higgs, one by Robert Brout and Francois Englert, and one, slightly later but independent, by Gerald Guralnik, C. Richard Hagen, and Tom Kibble. This general idea was then incorporated into a specific theory of the real world’s particles; this was accomplished in 1967-1968 in two papers, one written by Steven Weinberg and one by Abdus Salam. The bare bones of this “Standard Model of Particle Physics” was finally confirmed experimentally in 2012.

How precisely can mass come from a field? There’s a short answer to this question, invented a couple of decades ago. It’s the kind of answer that serves if time is short and attention spans are limited; it is intended to sound plausible, even though the person delivering the “explanation” knows that it is wrong. In my recent book, I called this type of little lie, a compromise that physicists sometimes have to make between giving no answer and giving a correct but long answer, a “phib” — a physics fib. Phibs are usually harmless, as long as people don’t take them seriously. But the Higgs field’s phib is particularly problematic.

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POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON April 16, 2024

Although I’ve been slowly revising the Higgs FAQ 2.0, this seemed an appropriate time to bring the Higgs FAQ on this website fully into the 2020’s. You will find the Higgs FAQ 3.0 here; it explains the basics of the Higgs boson and Higgs field, along with some of the wider context.

For deeper explanations of the Higgs field:

  • if you are comfortable with math, you can find this series of pages useful (but you will probably to read this series first.)
  • if you would prefer to avoid the math, a full and accurate conceptual explanation of the Higgs field is given in my book.

Events: this week I am speaking Tuesday in Berkeley, CA; Wednesday in Seattle, WA (at Town Hall); and Thursday outside of Portland, OR (at the Powell’s bookstore in Cedar Hills). Click here for more details.

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON April 15, 2024

The particle physics community is mourning the passing of Peter Higgs, the influential theoretical physicist and 2013 Nobel Prize laureate. Higgs actually wrote very few papers in his career, but he made them count.

It’s widely known that Higgs deeply disapproved of the term “God Particle”. That’s the nickname that has been given to the type of particle (the “Higgs boson”) whose existence he proposed. But what’s not as widely appreciated is why he disliked it, as do most other scientists I know.

It’s true that Higgs himself was an atheist. Still, no matter what your views on such subjects, it might bother you that the notion of a “God Particle” emerged neither from science nor from religion, and could easily be viewed as disrespectful to both of them. Instead, it arose out of marketing and advertising in the publishing industry, and it survives due to another industry: the news media.

But there’s something else more profound — something quite sad, really. The nickname puts the emphasis entirely in the wrong place. It largely obscures what Higgs (and his colleagues/competitors) actually accomplished, and why they are famous among scientists.

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POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON April 12, 2024

A quick note today, as I am flying to Los Angeles in preparation for

and other events next week.

I hope many of you were able, as I was, to witness the total solar eclipse yesterday. This was the third I’ve seen, and each one is different; the corona, prominences, stars, planets, and sky color all vary greatly, as do the sounds of animals. (I have written about my adventures going to my first one back in 1999; yesterday was a lot easier.)

Finally, of course, the physics world is mourning the loss of Peter Higgs. Back in 1964, Higgs proposed the particle known as the Higgs boson, as a consequence of what we often call the Higgs field. (Note that the field was also proposed, at the same time, by Robert Brout and Francois Englert.) Much is being written about Higgs today, and I’ll leave that to the professional journalists. But if you want to know what Higgs actually did (rather than the pseudo-descriptions that you’ll find in the press) then you have come to the right place. More on that later in the week.

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON April 9, 2024

It’s always fun and interesting when a measurement of an important quantity shows a hint of something unexpected. If yesterday’s results from DESI (the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument) were to hold up to scrutiny, it would be very big news. We may well find out within a year or two, when DESI’s data set triples in size.

The phrase “Dark Energy” is shorthand for “the energy-density and negative pressure of empty space”. This quantity was found to be non-zero back in 1998. But there’s been insufficient data to determine whether it has been constant over the history of the universe. Yesterday’s results from DESI suggest it might not be constant; perhaps the amount of dark energy has varied over time.

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POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON April 5, 2024

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A decay of a Higgs boson, as reconstructed by the CMS experiment at the LHC