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Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the God Particle (2012)

by Jim Baggott

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The hunt for the Higgs particle has involved the biggest, most expensive experiment ever. So what is this particle called the Higgs boson? Why does it matter so much? What does this new particle tells us about the Universe? And was finding it really worth all the effort?The short answer is yes, and there was much at stake: our basic model for the building blocks of the Universe, the Standard Model, would have been in tatters if there was no Higgs particle. The Higgs field had been proposed as the way in which particles gain mass - a fundamental property of matter.Little wonder the hunt and discovery have produced such intense media interest.Here, Jim Baggott explains the science behind the discovery, looking at how the concept of a Higgs field was invented, how it ispart of the Standard Model, and its implications on our understanding of all mass in the Universe.… (more)
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One way to visualise this kind of stuff is to understand why Quantum Field Theory (QFT) is seen as weird. Imagine a 2D field (a sheet) that you excite with some energy – you get waves in the sheet of course. What QFT says is that if you reduce the excitation energy to some very small value, you don’t get small waves, you get no waves at all. Then, as you increase the energy past some threshold, you get a localised wave-like excitation, a standing wave if you will. In the 2D analogy, you can imagine it as a small vibrating bump in the sheet.

This bump has some important properties. It has to be capable of persisting in the field for some time after the excitation energy has been removed. Depending on the nature of the bump it can last for nanoseconds or for millennia, before it eventually decays back into the sheet (creating other excitation bumps as its energy is dispersed). It can move around the sheet without losing its localised integrity. It can interact with other bumps, attracting or repelling them as it wanders about.
So QFT describes a series of local wave excitations in a field, which because they remain locally small appear as particles. Because there are several fields, and because the particles interact with (exist in) more than one of them, the resultant dynamic system is rich and complex. The fields remain subject to the laws of relativity, and it is the fields that are the fundamental structure of the universe, not the particles.

So for example, in the search for evidence of the Higgs Field, the idea was to use the LHC to make a sufficiently large ripple in the Higgs field that a localised wave-group (particle) would be formed. This was the Higgs Boson, and much was said about it. But the boson was just evidence of the field. It is the field that is the fundamental structure, the thing that by its interaction with other particles gives them mass.

This is a much, much more important topic than most people realize, and many of the reasons have not even been mentioned yet in this discussion. Firstly, there is a limited number of top quantum/relativity scientists in the world. This fact is extremely important, because a big portion of those work on M-theory. People argue that M-theory is so complex that you need many of the top minds working on it (which they are), BUT that actually limits the brain resources for the rest of the fields. And I do not only mean science, but also ideas that could one day lead to science. One of their main argument is, quantum physics has hit a roadblock last 30 years, only discovered things that was more or less already expected, and only real progress come from astronomy. Well if old experts keep saying that to young students, they are going to choose something like M-theory, they don't want to devote their career on something that has no promise of big breakthroughs. But younger generations have often in science history come up with radical new ideas that can make a stale field move forward. Well, that might take a long time now, that many of the brightest works on M-theory.

And another thing. Even if M-theory can be applied to our universe(s), it looks to be a long way from science. People often say M-theory is like next centuries science, by accident discovered in the last. Well, it sure looks that way, also in terms of when it will become science. Likely not next 10 years or 50. As far as I understand it does not even have the string equivalent of fields yet. And, with the 10^500 permutations of possible universe configurations, it’s not even sure it will ever be useful, even if does fit the world we live in.

I am not saying it should be thrown away, it just vacuums too many bright minds away from other fields. One step at a time. Not all the steps at once, is what I vote for. Cannot force it on people of-cause, people should research what they feel like. Like doing more research into Grand Unified Theory (GUT), instead of trying to skip directly to Theory of everything (TOE), like M-theory. I just think it’s a problem, and a big one.

Many scientist working in quantum theories, often also believe in M-theory, even though it is not the field they work in. That could also be a problem, as they might for example think, "hmm, I would not spend my time on GUT, as M-theory will be the theory on that". Which would also limit competing theories on aspects M will cover.

First place to start; top M-theory experts should stop trying to paint opponents of M-theory as crackpots. It's not done directly, but can often be read between the lines. And stop calling it science, until it is. I hope this gets better, so science can move forward faster. I see only one reason to stop progress, that is if the scientists suspect new insight can lead to unwanted weaponization. Like antimatter bombs or something similar that is too powerful for us to handle. Then of-cause scientist should find ways to prevent progress in that field. But this does not seem to be the case, so please let’s get more research diverted from M-theory into improving our current framework of nature, so we can understand dark matter/energy, and other weird empirical data from the universe.

Were high-energy and fundamental physicists found to have abandoned the scientific method and to have resorted to 'metaphysics' or just plain juju, that would have serious repercussions for science, but little immediate effect on anything else. On the other hand, misrepresentation of science in popular works is definitely something we should avoid on grounds of general policy and good governance, but is rarely perpetrated by working scientists, and has itself zero effect on science.

It is true that one has the impression that science at the present cutting edge is rather theory rich and data poor. However I suspect that this is always the case, because at the frontier of science it is usually easier to theorize than to gather and interpret data. As the frontier moves on, unsuccessful theories fall by the wayside and are forgotten. We thus suffer from a sort of historical tunnel hindsight in which we see the path that science has traversed as an obvious high road, and forget that it was usually far from obvious at the time.

At the end of the day there is no problem with spinning all kinds of theories, because ultimately the facts will decide the issue. Scientists know that. There's no downside. Nobody is about to take string theory or whatever as fact and base their actions on that. ( )
  antao | Apr 24, 2019 |
Here's how much I loved this book. Within a week of finishing the copy I'd borrowed from the library (indeed, even before I'd returned said copy), I went out and bought a copy of my own. Because I need this on my shelves. Why? Well, as someone with an M.S. in physics, and whose research appointment as in relativistic heavy ion collions, I'm more frequently called upon than most to explain things like the Higgs boson. But before a month ago, any such request would be met with a deer in the headlights stare and a lot of handwaving. My research was more interested in the quark-gluon plasma. So, the strong force. And it has been a very long time since I read The God Particle, okay?

So it's no surprise at all that when I saw this book in the New Books section of the library on my way to the poetry aisle, it stopped me in my tracks. And while it took me a while to get into it, once I did I really geeked out on it, telling friends about cool things I'd learned, asking my professional physics friends questions and doing additional reading on concepts I wanted to understand better. I did work for this book. I'm invested in it. Of course I want to own it now.

Like most books about an emerging concept in science, this one is presented as a history of the idea. Baggott introduces a whole host of key players, many of whom I was previously unaware of. The major players get brief histories and character descriptions as well, and as a result even some of the names I knew I now feel I know much more about. (And now feel I have a better idea which of the books on quantum mechanics on my shelves will be more interesting.)

If all you're looking for is a brief description of what the Higgs boson and Higgs field are thought to be, let me recommend the minutephysics channel on youtube. But if you want a wider survey on how did we get to this moment, and why is it important, I heartily recommend this book. ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
This is okay review of a lot of things ( just like the Nicolas Mee book was ) One ( 1 ) page that's might actually tell you a little about what the Higgs actually is/and/or does. ( page 88 ) But that was a helpful page ! ( )
  Baku-X | Jan 10, 2017 |
This is okay review of a lot of things ( just like the Nicolas Mee book was ) One ( 1 ) page that's might actually tell you a little about what the Higgs actually is/and/or does. ( page 88 ) But that was a helpful page ! ( )
  BakuDreamer | Sep 7, 2013 |
(Shame on Baggott and/or his publisher for perpetuating, in the subtitle, Leon Lederman's most unfortunate nickname for the Higgs boson.) Anyone who can't state the meaning of the lepton, fermion, boson, hadron, meson, and baryon particle categories (or name many of the prominent examples or subcategories of each) really ought to read *some* popular-level book on the Standard Model of particle physics. This one would do quite well for that purpose, with the last chapter detailing how the LHC was used to prove the Higgs boson's existence. With regard to the latter feature, the book rivals Sean Carroll's in having its publication date exquisitely timed.
  fpagan | Feb 1, 2013 |
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The hunt for the Higgs particle has involved the biggest, most expensive experiment ever. So what is this particle called the Higgs boson? Why does it matter so much? What does this new particle tells us about the Universe? And was finding it really worth all the effort?The short answer is yes, and there was much at stake: our basic model for the building blocks of the Universe, the Standard Model, would have been in tatters if there was no Higgs particle. The Higgs field had been proposed as the way in which particles gain mass - a fundamental property of matter.Little wonder the hunt and discovery have produced such intense media interest.Here, Jim Baggott explains the science behind the discovery, looking at how the concept of a Higgs field was invented, how it ispart of the Standard Model, and its implications on our understanding of all mass in the Universe.

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Tra i tanti oggetti pervasivi ed elusivi che affollano la dimensione invisibile del mondo subatomico, il "bosone di Higgs» è stato il più pervasivo ed elusivo: quella particella era l'elemento cruciale che mancava a completare il puzzle del Modello Standard, perché conferiva massa a tutte le altre particelle elementari, un enigma rimasto altrimenti insoluto. Quando finalmente il 4 luglio 2012 il CERN ne ha annunciato la verifica sperimentale, la "particella di Dio» (come un fisico l’ha temerariamente denominata) ha atti­rato su di sé i riflettori dell'attenzione mediatica mondiale.
Affrontando l'intera questione con un rigore che ne acuisce la densità intellettuale e la vertigine tecnologica, Jim Baggott segue due percorsi paralleli. Non solo, infatti, ne ricostruisce la genesi teorica, ma ripercorre tutte le stazioni di avvicinamento al­l'e­clatante risultato di Ginevra: il legame tra i primi acceleratori degli anni Venti e le collisioni di particelle nei raggi cosmici; la messa a punto del ciclotrone da parte di Lawrence; il contributo di Van der Meer, il cui metodo di «raffreddamento stocastico» ha permesso al gruppo di Rubbia l'individuazione dei bosoni W e Z, decisivi per arrivare alla scoperta del bosone di Higgs; e le svolte successive del LEP (Large Electron-Positron Collider) e dell'or­mai leggendario LHC (Large Hadron Collid­er), che con i suoi 1600 magneti superconduttori ha permesso di sviluppare energie senza precedenti. Presentandoci via via gli snodi più sofisticati del mondo delle particelle, Baggott ci accompagna, attraverso una narrazione serrata e avvincente, in un viaggio che ci costringe a ripensare tutte le categorie abituali della fi­sica, fino a convincerci di come un famoso aforisma di Einstein – «Dio è sottile, ma non malizioso» – possa essere a volte smentito.
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