The Internet is buzzing with news about an upcoming announcement this week, and, incredibly, it has nothing to do with celebrities. On July 4th, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) will make an announcement about its search for the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle long thought to exist but never definitely proven. CERN operates the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), an enormous circular machine buried on the border between France and Switzerland that was devised in part to find the Higgs by smashing together protons at close to light speed and analyzing the resulting debris. The announcement will be made at the International Conference on High Energy Physics, in Melbourne, Australia.
Finding the Higgs would solve one of the most fundamental problems in physics—what gives matter mass? Everyone learns about mass in high school physics, but the more you think about it the harder it is to define in plain language. At best, one can say that mass is what makes a watermelon harder to throw than a lemon.
One possible solution was thought up in the 1960s by scientist Peter Higgs. Perhaps, he reasoned, there was a kind of field permeating space—a bit like a magnetic field—that could transfer mass to a particle as it moved. The particle would then confer that mass onto its constituent atoms. No one has been able to prove the existence of the Higgs field, but data collected by the LHC, and possibly announced on Wednesday, might settle the matter. Meanwhile, until Wednesday, everyone in the physics world and beyond will be sitting on the edge of their seats, awaiting evidence that should look like this:
Image courtesy of The International Linear Collider