Two lectures by physicist and Deer Isle summer resident Peter Antich wrestle with the meanings of the newly-discovered but long-theorized Higgs boson. The first lecture, held Wednesday, June 19, at St. Brendan’s Hall, kicked off the talk about the discovery.
Understanding the Higgs boson may not be easy for non-physicists, but a good place to start is the “standard model.”
The standard model of physics states there are elementary particles that make up our universe. Quarks, the term for some of these particles, combine together to create what Antich called “strongly-interacting particles such as the proton and neutron, which make up the nuclei of atoms.”
Other kinds of particles include “force-carriers.” For instance, there are force-carriers for electromagnetism, which are the forces behind electricity and light. These forces control particle behavior. However, in 1964 it was theorized there must be a particle that assigns mass, as the standard model didn’t account for how things had mass.
“Unified theories are what people are looking for,” said Antich as he explained why so much effort by physicists had been put into quantum field theory, or the theory of how all particles interact. “The goal is to try to figure out what matter is made of.”
The Higgs boson was theorized first in 1964, and confirmed on March 14 of this year at the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Whether the Higgs boson discovered at CERN is the only particle to assign mass, is another question altogether. So far, quantum field theory has only identified 17 particles which make up all of existence.
“We’ve been looking for something of unknown energy and unknown mass. How are we sure we’re looking for the right particle?” asked Antich.
The particle discovered indicates that it’s possible there is an inherent instability in the universe. “This may mean ultimately that the universe is unstable,” said Antich. “And who knows how many billions of years it will be before it comes unglued.”
Antich’s discussion then ranged to more philosophical questions of whether reality actually exists as we know it. “Work by neurobiologists [questions the idea of] basic perception,” said Antich. “The reality I describe is not the reality you describe.”
A second discussion on the topic of the Higgs boson was held on Wednesday, June 26.