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What is a Higgs Boson (in simple terms)

The Higgs Boson is one of those simple ideas, which takes a little bit of genius to come up with, but isn't actually that complex in principle.

Hopefully I've explained this in a way most people with a little scientific understanding can get their heads around.

:o) I'd also add that it's probably worth speaking to a few psychologists and philosophers before assuming physics makes any sense at all.

The Very Short Answer:

If you think of a photon as being a carrier partic for light, as opposed to being light itself, then a Higgs Boson is a carrier particle for mass.

The Bit Longer Answer:

If you want to transfer light from the sun to the earth, you stand on the sun....get hold of a bucket (in this case a photon, which is a type of boson - think of it as a bucket, in which you can put energy) fill it up with light (energy), and then you throw it at the earth.

We know that plants on earth need sunlight to grow. Theoretically therefore, there must be some way for the plant to catch the sunlight, take the energy from it and convert that to something physical it can work with... i.e. mass.

To understand what a Higgs Boson is, we first need to understand what a Higgs Field is.

higgs field imageA Higgs Field is like a big net which can catch sunlight (wave energy) and convert it to particle mass.

As the sunlight hits the net it is slowed down, resulting in a loss of kinetic energy. Conservation of Energy suggests that energy must go somewhere, it can't just vanish, and so the argument goes, it's converted to mass.

Physics is the study of the physical world. As such, physicists aren't very happy about the idea that a field might exist without there being a physical cause of it. Think, "you can't have a magnetic field without a magnet." Therefore, in order for a Higgs Field to exist... they argue that there must exist a corresponding particle for the field to exist around.

So because of the fact that we observe energy being transferred from sunlight, to plant mass, Higgs argued there must be a particle performing that energy transformation; However it's so small, it's pretty difficult to prove the point.

If it helps, you can also just think of the tiny photon being sucked in by a tiny (but massive in relation to the photon) black hole, and that it's not actually being changed from one thing to another, but actually just being slowed down from a very fast vibrating thing, to a very very slow vibrating thing, slow enough, that you can now see it.

The Higgs Boson (remembering a boson, is just a carrier "bucket", or a place holder) is the particle, or carrier, or space, around which a Higgs Field exists, such that when energy in the form of photons (sunlight, or other electromagnetic radiation) hits it, that energy is slowed to the point where all it's energy is captured, and turned from pure energy into mass... or from sunlight into plants.

This is why it's called the God Particle by some, but as with any discussion about god, it's probably worth being very clear what you mean by god in relevant context. It's difficult to use this as justification for stoning someone for eating shellfish for instance, which is why most physicist including Higgs himself object to the name.

P.S. I for one, am not going to fall into the trap that physics actually makes sense. Personally I think they're just making it all up to justify the amount of time they spend learning ludicrously complex mathematics.

As such, the above might all be complete bollox.

:o)As another example of a boson, you can think of this web page as being a boson for capturing the financial energy of people who might want to donate for my time explaining these things, so I can keep doing it. No Pressure.