Particle physics -- why does it matter?

Jul 05, 2012
Particle physics -- why does it matter?
Simulation of a Higgs boson being produced after two protons collide. Image: Lucas Taylor, Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists reported yesterday the discovery of a particle that is very likely the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that gives other particles mass—and makes life possible. Theorized in the 1960s and sometimes called “the God particle,” physicists have spent decades searching for it. What finally allowed them to find it were experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a high-energy particle accelerator that runs in a 27-kilmometre circular tunnel buried 100 metres below the surface of the earth underneath France and Switzerland.

We spoke to U of T physics professor William Trischuk in June of 2011 about the project. He is one of group of U of T students and professors working on the experiments at the LHC. This is an edited version of that conversation.

What does the Large Hadron Collider do?

It allows us to accelerate subatomic to previously unimagined energies. There are other places in the universe—the Big Bang—where these kinds of energies have existed, but this is our only controlled way of studying what goes on at these energies.

Why do we want to do this?

If we produce higher energies and collision rates, these can be converted for brief instants in time to mass, to new particles. We know protons are all around us. At the LHC we are putting energy into them, accelerating them to energies that are 7,000 times what the protons have when they are not moving, and then colliding them. In principle, we can produce energies 14,000 times as high as the protons have on their own.

These are the types of energies that existed after the Big Bang. Particle physics has been chasing the Big Bang backwards to higher and higher energies. We now understand how things work at a millionth of a second after the Big Bang. We’re trying to go to a billionth of a second. Producing higher and higher energy collisions takes us back farther and farther toward the beginning of the Big Bang, when all the particles in the universe were made, but before they had coalesced to form protons and neutrons.

And why do we want to reproduce the Big Bang?

We have a of physics that has allowed us to explain the world. Everything seems to fit together but we don’t understand why. The Standard Model is very rational. We can write down how it works. But we don’t understand why it works.

Colleagues in theoretical physics have got lots of great ideas and have written hundreds of papers, but physics is an observational science. We want to peel back the next layer of the Standard Model and put some order to it. The chemist Mendeleev catalogued the of the elements, but he didn’t know about nuclei and atoms and electrons. When science developed more sophisticated measurements it became clear why the periodic table has the structure it has. That’s what we’re trying to do now in particle physics.

As scientists, first we tried to understand how the atoms and molecules work in chemistry. Chemistry describes the periodic table and allows us to understand why some things are very reactive and some things are not. Then we tried to understand how the protons and neutrons work in . Neutrons and protons tell us how nuclei formed and why some can give us nuclear energy and others are stable and can’t. Now we’re trying to understand how different combinations of quarks make different particles.

Are there practical applications?

I bring up chemistry and nuclear physics because we’ve made something of them. When Mendeleev discovered the periodic table, nobody knew what chemistry would allow us to do in everyday life. When Rutherford discovered the nucleus, he was just trying to understand how things were put together, but for better worse, we found things to do with nuclei. We can get energy from them because we mastered the physics that explains to us how nuclear physics work.

This is the same kind of thing that one could imagine doing with the particles—this is the next phase. But all of these applications took 30 to 50 years. It’s still 10 years in our future before we begin to learn all the Large Hadron Collider can teach us about , and then we can begin to explore applications.

This is the way science and engineering have worked together for hundreds of years, going back to Newton with an apple falling on his head. Once we understand the principles, we find applications. I’m firmly convinced that we will find something, whether it will be science-fiction like warp drives, anti-matter, I don’t know. But understanding how it all fits together is the first step.

What is your interest in the Large Hardon Collider?

My interest is more in seeing what happens. Others are more focused on analyzing the data the LHC will yield. My specialty is in building pieces of the particle detector. It takes hundreds, maybe even a thousand people to build and maintain the facility. It’s an experiment that I do with 3,000 of my closest friends!

Explore further: Uncovering the forbidden side of molecules

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tkjtkj
3.5 / 5 (11) Jul 05, 2012
The Higgs 'particle' does NOT bestow mass on anything.
It is the Higgs FIELD that does so: the particle merely 'pops out of the field' when experiencing a particular energy burst, then very-rapidly disappears ... sO rapidly that it can only be inferred to have existed by means of measurements of its decay 'debris' ..
It's a FIELD (akin to an electrostatic field that might exist between two capacitor plates) that is the the 'soup' that 'slows down other particles to varying extents' .. which we witness as evidence of mass.

Particle? : SCHMARTICLE!

"It's the FIELD that's the thing wherein lies the importance
of the kin.... errr... the particle"

El_Nose
5 / 5 (6) Jul 05, 2012
all scientists understand that -- we understand that the article writers are flawed

BTW the same can be said of all bosons but they are by definition force carriers
Amadillo
1.3 / 5 (17) Jul 05, 2012
No particle revealed at colliders during last seventy years has some practical usage, industrial the less. I presume, it says everything about subject.

The collider research is a remnant of cold war era, when physicists got respect of politicians because of their success in nuclear weapon construction and when these politicians believed, that the colliders could open way into new, even more destructive technologies, than the nuclear weapons. These beliefs fortunately failed.

Of course, the people who hinder the cold fusion research will insist, that the huge investments into high energy physics support development of adjacent technologies (computing, superconductor and vacuum technologies, etc..) - but you can be sure, with such volume of investments into cold fusion we would have these technologies developed too, not to say about apparent positive environmental and geopolitical impacts.
antialias_physorg
4.7 / 5 (13) Jul 05, 2012
No particle revealed at colliders during last seventy years has some practical usage, industrial the less.

So? Atomic nuclei had been theorized about for thousands of years (atomos is from ancient greek = indivisible). First experiments in which atoms could be shown to behave like 'very small particles' were done in 1740. Only hundreds of years later were we able to split the atom and make some use of its internals.

The collider research is a remnant of cold war era, when physicists got respect of politicians because of their success in nuclear weapon construction and when these politicians believed, that the colliders could open way into new, even more destructive technologies, than the nuclear weapons

But the collider was started after that - and it was clear from the word go that it wouldn't be good for weapons research (probably the reason why the US or Russia don't contribute anything to it)

So no: it's not a 'cold war remnant', sockpuppet16
Bewia
1.3 / 5 (15) Jul 05, 2012
The first colliders were started at the end of 50's and when the cold war ended with fall of Soviet Union, the projects of both USA, both Soviet Unions colliders were canceled immediately (project SSC in 1991). The atom nuclei have nothing to do with results of collider research. Everything what I'm saying here is an absolute truth.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (11) Jul 05, 2012
Everything what I'm saying here is an absolute truth.

No, sockpuppet17, it is not.
EvgenijM
1 / 5 (7) Jul 05, 2012
Higgs field sounds pretty similar to ether ideas, i.e., the space is not empty, but filled with substance of some sort.
vacuum-mechanics
1 / 5 (10) Jul 05, 2012
Higgs field sounds pretty similar to ether ideas, i.e., the space is not empty, but filled with substance of some sort.

Yes, but the problem is that mainstream physicists still believe that it could not be proved for ether existence, so maybe this paper could solve the problem.

http://www.vacuum...mid=9=en
ziphead
1 / 5 (14) Jul 05, 2012
So? Atomic nuclei had been theorized about for thousands of years (atomos is from ancient greek = indivisible). First experiments in which atoms could be shown to behave like 'very small particles' were done in 1740. Only hundreds of years later were we able to split the atom and make some use of its internals.


And the ancient Greeks could have spent billions of gold coins in rock-smashing experiments back then and it would have gotten them nowhere. But the ancient Greeks were smarter than The Flintstones of modern era.

...
-Ok Fred, still no supersymmetry. Darn, what do we do?
-Ok, I have a great idea. How about... we build even larger collider?
-Bigger than the last hundred thirty seven of them?
- Yeah.
-Ok, that might work. Yabadabadoo.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (12) Jul 05, 2012
And the ancient Greeks could have spent billions of gold coins in rock-smashing experiments back then and it would have gotten them nowhere.

And you may notice that each and all of those "37 colliders" has advanced our understanding immeasurably...and that the fallout of the development going into them is all around you
(e.g. the entire browser technology and protocol for delivering information to you in accessible form was invented because a guy at CERN wanted to make the massive amounts of data and results accessible to others there...I'm talking about the world wide web).
ziphead
1.3 / 5 (13) Jul 06, 2012
And you may notice that each and all of those "37 colliders" has advanced our understanding immeasurably...


Thay have? As compared to all other possible alternative ways of spending money in order to advance science?

and that the fallout of the development going into them is all around you
(e.g. the entire browser technology and protocol for delivering information to you in accessible form was invented because a guy at CERN wanted to make the massive amounts of data and results accessible to others there...I'm talking about the world wide web).


Are you saying the only way to invent the internet technology back then was to build the CERN facility first? :)

Or are you saying that this was the most optimal way of developing the internet technology?

ewj
1 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2012
Personally, I am a believer in the BB but it is most likely to be cycle. i.e the universe expands, whilst the energy momentum exists it proves an atomic Hold On. In regions of the universe where the expansion is 300kms. Then consider Plank. Vary the value for 'C' in the atomic zero point field. Then it easy to visualise how the Hold On will vary by adjusting their cohesive frequency. The expansion rate of 300kms determines this frequency as it is providing new space second for second. Thus when the expansion varies upward or downward - all atoms ( all of them ) instantaneously dissociate. Hence the cycle and New BB. Our existence just happens to be occurring in one of them. The moment the universe varies local expansion velocity all atoms are doomed and us with it and we are all converted back into a huge energy cloud - which initiates a further expansion. Not a Big Crunch. In a book 'Absolute relativity Theory of everything'. A new idea and in my humble opinion a laudable 1.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (7) Jul 06, 2012
As compared to all other possible alternative ways of spending money in order to advance science?

It's always hard to predict what scientific endeavours will give you the most gain. It's science - not engineering.

I'm reminded of an epic exchange with one of the science managers when I was a scientist mayself. He asked me (and I quote): "How will it take you until you have invented this"

Some argue we should put all money into science that will give a faster return on investmnet. But that is extremly shortsighted (because that science is based on fundamental reserach done 50 years ago). So if you do that then you will kill ALL progress in the mid term. We need the mixed approach currently employed.

As for the article:
Does the discovery of the Higgs change your life? Counterquestion: Did people walking on the moon change anybody's life? Should we therefore not have done it? Down the line it will certainly change lives. If you don't do the first step you'll never get anywhere
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (7) Jul 06, 2012
Are you saying the only way to invent the internet technology back then was to build the CERN facility first?

I'm saying that you'll never know what kinds of stuff will be the result of research. Sometimes the fallout will be something radically different from what the resaerch was about - as was the case for e.g. lasers, the internet in general (ARPANET), browser technology (CERN), electricity, GPS (originally only for military use), realtivity (without which GPS would be unthinkable) , collider technology (which is used in hospitals to prepare materials for PET scans and which alos paved the way for MR scanners) ... none of which were really 'planned' that way but without which our lives would look VERY different)

Basic research is always of a type that we have no idea where it leads at first.
The only thing that is certain is that you will not get anything (in knowledge AND later in products/progress) if you don't do any.
Benni
1.3 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2012
Thus when the expansion varies upward or downward - all atoms ( all of them ) instantaneously dissociate...... back into a huge energy cloud - which initiates a further expansion. Not a Big Crunch. In a book 'Absolute relativity Theory of everything'. A new idea and in my humble opinion a laudable 1.[/q

Really? All this happens instantaneously throughout the Universe? Whatever happened to Conservation of Energy where energy transmits at 186,284 miles/sec? For atoms to move from one position to another, can ONLY be accomplished by the input of electro-magnetic energy at 186,284 miles/sec. You need to actually study Einstein's GR, to understand why he describes our finite universe. In a finite universe, nothing can "instantaneously" change position or transform.
typicalguy
5 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2012
More people posting here that hate knowledge. If you don't like physics and phsyics research then GTFO and go talk to your priest.
ewj
1 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2012
Really? All this happens instantaneously throughout the Universe?
Yes, in 3D. The Absolute( Newton notion ) the primary dimension is timeless. If you consider the Horizon problem & Newtons simple velocity equation. If the time is zero ) between 2 transit points ) then the speed of information transfer is infinite ( instant). Hence the temp across the universe is uniform. How could that be possible? It is possible once people realise that Newton's notions were correct. The absolute dimension of space is the primary dimension which has a velocity of 300kms ( your 186,284mps).Into which you fit GFT and SFT into our experience of 3D. photons and or anything else can only move as fast as the universe is creating new space to occupy. It is not so difficult to understand and determines the velocity of light all other aspects of physics. Just we have ignored Newton notions since 1916 thanks to Einstein referring the absolute as nothing more than a hypothetical interest.
ewj
1 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2012
we have neighbouring suns. we know and observe their sun spots. We know our sun spot frequency dating back to pre christian epoch thanks to tree rings and chinese astronomers etc. But when NASA finally gets around to comparing sun spot frequency IF they share the same or similar event time. THEN time to finally admit we live in 4 real spatial dimension. Purely because information must be passing between them. And time to reconsider Newtons notions that space provides us with the primary dimension. Into which we locate our Euclidian 3D.
Deathclock
2.5 / 5 (8) Jul 06, 2012
AA you have the patience of a saint...
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Jul 06, 2012
AA you have the patience of a saint...

I have a slow compiler at work :-/

ewj
1 / 5 (6) Jul 06, 2012
The first colliders were started at the end of 50's and when the cold war ended with fall of Soviet Union, the projects of both USA, both Soviet Unions colliders were canceled immediately (project SSC in 1991). The atom nuclei have nothing to do with results of collider research. Everything what I'm saying here is an absolute truth.


i thought the first was in 1932 and some 200 cyclotrons now exist? all doing the same research to exceed the speed of light at some stage or other. Now LHC is destined to be more powerful! The problem is not the speed of light it is the shortage of a good hypothesis so we can searh in other areas of nature
Bewia
Jul 06, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ant_oacute_nio354
1 / 5 (9) Jul 06, 2012
Higgs doesn't exist. The mass is the electric dipole moment.
This particle is a neutral fermion.
Antonio Saraiva
ajps2@hotmail.com
Deathclock
1 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2012
AA you have the patience of a saint...

I have a slow compiler at work :-/


Hahaha... my compiler is fine but erasing the flash memory on the DSP to reprogram it takes forever, most of my posts on here are while I'm waiting for that to occur.
ewj
1 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2012
cyclotrons aren't colliders

Can you not accelerate protons in a cyclotron? I thought thats what they do? Cyclotron - colider - synchotron. More or less the same tool which provides man the opportunity to try and exceed the speed of light. (endlessly ).
Deathclock
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 06, 2012
I don't know how you think a cyclotron is a collider when there are no collisions... it's an accelerator.

It's amazing that someone can misunderstand the point of something when the entire point of that thing is not only in the name, it IS the name.
Benni
2.4 / 5 (5) Jul 06, 2012
If you consider the Horizon problem & Newtons simple velocity equation. If the time is zero ) between 2 transit points ) then the speed of information transfer is infinite ( instant). Just we have ignored Newton notions since 1916 thanks to Einstein referring the absolute as nothing more than a hypothetical interest.


If Newton had all these "notions", it's a good thing Einstein ignored those "notions" or we'd still be living in a scientific dark age as subjects of religious zealots who thought the Sun revolved around the Earth, public dissenters were remitted to a local jailhouse. Locating a single cogent thought inside any of your posts is more challenging than the two hour final exam I took in one of my calculus courses to derive the area of a circle.
HenisDov
1 / 5 (4) Jul 07, 2012
Eppur Si Muove, Higgs Particle YOK
Regardless Of Whatever Whoever

Regardless Of Whatever Is Said By Whoever Says It -
Higgs Particle YOK.

S Hawking is simply wrong in accepting it. Obviously wrong.
Everyone who accepts the story of the Higgs particle is simply wrong.
Plain commonsense.
Singularity and the Big Bang MUST have happened with the smallest base universe particles, the gravitons, that MUST be both energy and mass, even if they are inert mass just one smallest fraction of a second at singularity. All mass formats evolve from gravitons that convert into energy i.e. extricate from their gravitons clusters into mass formats in motion, energy. And they all end up again as mass in a repeat singularity.
Universe expansion and re-contraction proceed simultaneously..

Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)
http://universe-life.com/
http://universe-life.com/2012/02/03/universe-energy-mass-life-compilation/