A leading particle physicist explains why the official confirmation of the existence of the elusive Higgs Boson (“the God Particle”) was a world-changing scientific milestone.
Carroll (Theoretical Physics/Caltech; From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, 2010, etc.) makes a convincing case for the necessity of supporting basic scientific research that may have no discernible payback. At the cost of billions of dollars and a decades-long international effort by thousands of scientists, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva is Big Science on steroids. The LHC uses superconducting magnets to accelerate protons traveling in opposite directions, almost to the speed of light. The massive amount of energy released when they collide results in the creation of the Higgs particle, which then rapidly decays, revealing the track of more recognizable particles. In the author's view, the days are over when an individual scientist such as Carl Anderson (working with a team of students) could build a cloud chamber and be the first to reveal evidence of antimatter by identifying the track of a positron. With the help of diagrams and vivid, descriptive language, Carroll reveals the scientific background to the discovery and why it has given scientists a glimpse of how the universe works on the most fundamental, subatomic level. The Higgs particle fills in a piece of the puzzle, but the author recognizes that despite the success of this endeavor, building an even larger, next-generation collider may prove politically difficult.
A fascinating chronicle of an important chapter in fundamental science.