THE WEEKENDER: Grappling with the miracle of the God particle

BOFFIN'S BUNKER: The CERN Laboratory in Switzerland

BOFFIN'S BUNKER: The CERN Laboratory in Switzerland

First published in Weekender South Wales Argus: Photograph of the Author by

Oh, I'm confused. I have read several in-depth articles in the past couple of days about the definite-probable-maybe discovery of the Higgs boson particle. And I am none the wiser.

Actually, I am wiser, for I know that it is very important. Something about it being the glue that holds everything together? Sounds damn important to me. But I don't know what exactly it is, what it does, why it does it.

Those boffins at the CERN Laboratory in Switzerland have apparently been blasting really tiny particles into even tinier particles in their Large Hadron Collider, and have detected something that is almost certainly a Higgs boson particle, though it has not yet been confirmed.

Pages and pages of national media and television airtime have been given over to this and as I write, Professor Brian Cox is probably hyperventilating into a camera somewhere.

The Higgs boson particle I believe, is meant to give particles mass.

Now, some of us have more mass than others, so is Higgs boson to blame for the epidemic of obesity we are currently living through?

A number of the stories I have read have attempted an explanation, but even the layman's versions have me baffled. And there seems to be a fondness for swimming pool analogies.

One asks us to imagine swimming through a pool full of something like custard, thick and hard to get across.

The Higgs boson particle is like the custard-like substance and this week's discovery equates to working out that the substance is definitely custard.

Another proposes filling an Olympic-sized swimming pool with grains of sand, each grain representing a collision of protons.

A monumentally tiny amount of these collisions produces a particle that is a candidate for a Higgs boson, which acts as a goo that slows down particles and gives them mass.

Otherwise, they would be zipping about at the speed of light and all would be chaos.

Or something.

If we have to use the swimming pool as our model, as I understand it, without the Higgs boson, the water would shoot down the plug hole at the speed of light, taking we swimmers and the swimming pool, the street it is on, the city the street is in, the country the city is in, the continent the country is in, and the planet the continent is on, with it.

Except without the Higgs boson, none of these things, including us, would exist in the first place.

So I guess it must be pretty important.

The problem of course, is physics. Not being of a scientific bent, I find the whole idea of physics completely baffling, while acknowledging that it is fundamental to explaining the mysteries of the universe.

I was always bottom of the class at physics. The face of my teacher - a tweed suit-clad chap with a Tintin haircut and the most rundown shoes I have ever seen - would gradually shade toward the beetroot as lessons progressed and my ignorance plumbed Marianas Trench-like depths.

Back then, in the late 1970s, physicist Peter Higgs' idea of a particle that gave other particles mass was a theory looking for confirmation.

Now it looks like he has been vindicated. And Higgs boson must be a powerful thing indeed.

Because, in very basic terms it gives other particles mass. And anything that could have provided the mass to keep my physics teacher's shoes together fills me with awe.


No pleasure of pain in Milan

I HAVE been invited to Milan.

Five days in Italy's second largest city, a shopping, art and cultural hotspot.

Unfortunately, what I am being asked to attend is the 14th World Congress on Pain.

It sounds like a cage fighting spectacular. But it is actually a gathering of 6,000 experts on pain and how to control it, minimise it, live with it.

In my other role as this newspaper's health reporter, I would of course love to attend, though I doubt I would be able to get the resulting expenses claim through the various stages of verification.

Still, it is nice at least to be asked.

And anyway, the football season will have started, and as a supporter of a perennially underachieving Championship team, I will be experiencing a whole world of pain by then.

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