Thursday, March 5, 2009

Defining Higgs-Boson: The Celestial Mechanics of The God Particle...

"There are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago."
-J. Robert Oppenheimer

The Higgs Mechanism:

"Imagine a cocktail party of political party workers who are uniformly distributed across the floor, all talking to their nearest neighbours. The ex-Prime Minister enters and crosses the room. All of the workers in her neighbourhood are strongly attracted to her and cluster round her. As she moves she attracts the people she comes close to, while the ones she has left return to their even spacing. Because of the knot of people always clustered around her she acquires a greater mass than normal, that is she has more momentum for the same speed of movement across the room. Once moving she is hard to stop, and once stopped she is harder to get moving again because the clustering process has to be restarted.

In three dimensions, and with the complications of relativity, this is the Higgs mechanism. In order to give particles mass, a background field is invented which becomes locally distorted whenever a particle moves through it. The distortion - the clustering of the field around the particle - generates the particle's mass. The idea comes directly from the physics of solids. Instead of a field spread throughout all space a solid contains a lattice of positively charged crystal atoms. When an electron moves through the lattice the atoms are attracted to it, causing the electron's effective mass to be as much as 40 times bigger than the mass of a free electron.

The postulated Higgs field in the vacuum is a sort of hypothetical lattice which fills our Universe. We need it because otherwise we cannot explain why the Z and W particles which carry the weak interactions are so heavy while the photon which carries electromagnetic forces is massless.

The Higgs Boson aka The God Particle:

Now consider a rumour passing through our room full of uniformly spread political workers. Those near the door hear of it first and cluster together to get the details, then they turn and move closer to their next neighbours who want to know about it too. A wave of clustering passes through the room. It may spread to all the corners or it may form a compact bunch which carries the news along a line of workers from the door to some dignitary at the other side of the room. Since the information is carried by clusters of people, and since it was clustering that gave extra mass to the ex-Prime Minister, then the rumour-carrying clusters also have mass.

The Higgs boson is predicted to be just such a clustering in the Higgs field. We will find it much easier to believe that the field exists, and that the mechanism for giving other particles is true, if we actually see the Higgs particle itself. Again, there are analogies in the physics of solids. A crystal lattice can carry waves of clustering without needing an electron to move and attract the atoms. These waves can behave as if they are particles. They are called phonons and they too are bosons. There could be a Higgs mechanism, and a Higgs field throughout our Universe, without there being a Higgs boson."

"I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics." -Albert Einstein (New York Times Magazine, 11.9.1930).

- David Miller ( Article: "Politics, Solid State and the Higgs," Dept of Physics and Astronomy, University College, UK, 2000s. Image: -Woman as Higgs Mechanism, 1930s).


amiya said...

Very well narrated, Violet! I liked the way you switched seamlessly between the boson and the fermion. 'Spin's aside, lets hope that the LHC brings some surprises for us.

sunil thakur said...

There are several problems with this analogy. Higgs boson pervades the universe and since Higgs boson has mass therefore there cannot be any space in the room for ex-PM (any particle) to enter. Even if we assume that our ex-PM is a massless entity, the crowd cannot get close to her because room must be full of her supporters (remember, higgs boson pervades the universe and hence absolute emptiness cannot exist and in the absence of absolute emptiness, there cannot be any motion).

The idea that fundamental particles of the universe are massless entities is scientifically untenable because in the absence of mass, a particle cannot have volume and energy and therefore cannot be termed as a physical entity. In the absence of mass, energy, and volume, a particle can only be abstract phenomenon.