The Higgs Boson Is Found

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Inside the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider Inside the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider (Courtesy of CERN)

Lisa Randall is a professor of physics at Harvard University and the author of Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World. Randall will discuss the latest news about the recently discovered particle that is consistent with the Higgs boson, the final major component of the Standard Model.


Lisa Randall

Comments [28]

SteveB from Upper West Side, Manhattan, NYC

So does this mean that the Higgs Field is not uniform across the entire "universe" ? If the particles are excitations of the field, what is the field actually ? If the Higgs Boson doesn't last very long and these energetic interactions needed to create them are not so frequent anymore, could the Higgs Field eventually disappear ?

Thanks for the suggested reading, I am eagerly awaiting it from the NYPL !

Jul. 06 2012 11:24 AM

DMV, a lot of the wiki entries are very technical and I'm often thankful for that, but I see how it's not best for the average reader. When I was a kid, I read Michio Kaku and Paul Davies, but in retrospect they weren't great. Richard Feynman wrote very nice books, but not about modern issues. There are many books from Brian Greene and Stephen Hawking and others, but they are concerned with new theories rather than the standard model. Someone should write a book or make one of those PBS documentaries about the formulation and discovery of the standard model. There is one really great book, but it's maybe too technical:

There are blogs that are often understandable to nonphysicists. And when they aren't, you can post a comment asking for an explanation, and you will get it. I recommend Resonaances ( and Tommaso Dorigo's blog (

As you can tell from my numerous comments, physicists love explaining physics (even when they're bad at it). So you could probably politely contact a physicist at your local university and ask questions. The institutes I've worked at always have open-house days, too. If you have a high-school-age kid, there's also a free program of saturday courses at Columbia University for high school students. It used to be run by the physics department; it may still be. I attended as a high-school student and loved it.

Jul. 05 2012 07:27 PM
DMV from Brooklyn

Daniel, thank you for your answers and descriptions, which I find eminently understandable. I accept that so much of the physics under discussion is best communicated in complex mathematics, but unfortunately, most of us don't understand the scientific language which best describes these ideas. Very few educators can easily and simply-as-possible communicate physics to a lay audience.

Do you (or does anyone else) have recommendations for sources which teach intricately complex physics to a lay adults (or children)? Thank you!

P.S. I find looking up physics concepts on Wikipedia--which is written by committee--to be very disappointing...

Jul. 05 2012 04:57 PM

Space is permeated by the Higgs field, yes. The particles are excitations of the field, and don't fill space. The universe, though, isn't generally filled with particles interacting at extremely high energies. In certain hot places of the universe there is such interaction, and very early in the universe there was lots of such interaction, but now not so much. Your question is very similar to what early universe cosmologists study re dark matter.

Also, yes, the vacuum is indeed seething with activity.

Jul. 05 2012 04:16 PM
SteveB from UWS, Manhattan, NYC

Thanks Daniel.

So does that mean that "space" which is filled with Higgs Particles (Higgs Field?) enough to give mass to tiny particles is also filled with particles interacting at extremely high energy levels to give birth to the Higgs Particles which don't last very long in themselves but are constantly replenished? So "space" must be seething ? ! What's the probability of these tiny particles interacting with the right combination of partners at the right energy levels???

Jul. 05 2012 01:11 PM
The Truth from Becky

Daniel, good for you.

Jul. 05 2012 12:55 PM

SteveB, particles have no memory of how they are created, so there would be no difference to how a higgs boson would behave when created in the lab compared to when created out in nature. Most particles are unstable and decay. The time it takes for a particle to decay depends on many things, including what force mediates the decay, how much smaller its decay products are than it and how many possible ways it can decay, etc.

As to how a higgs is created "in the wild" so to speak: same way in the lab... when two highly energetic particles interact to turn some of their energy into the mass of the higgs.

The July 4th press conference was scheduled because the results were to be announced at a conference in Australia that started yesterday. The CERN heads felt it more proper to announce it from CERN given the importance of the occasion.

Jul. 05 2012 12:48 PM

Ok, Becky, but then NASA has nothing to do with any of this, and it's sort of out of left field to bring them up. The truth is the US is falling behind when it comes to this field. I'm an American (NYC!) particle physicist, and I've been living 8 years in Europe largely because it's just a greater priority here. So it's not NASA/Houston. It's DOE/Fermilab, BNL, Argonne, JLab, LBL, etc. More funding, more positions, more research.

Jul. 05 2012 12:41 PM
SteveB from Upper West Side, Manhattan, NYC

So what is old is new again in the sense that the Higgs Field resembles a bit of what was claimed for Ether in the 1800's, providing a omnipresent lattice that gives structure to the universe.

A question I have is that these Higgs Bosons only were detected for an extremely short amount of time in the experimental conditions of the LHC before they decayed into sub-particles. How long do they exist for in a "natural" state and what causes them to go into and out of existence?

Also, why was July 4th chosen as the day to have the press release? Does this point to national rivalries within the world of particle physics?

Jul. 05 2012 12:16 PM
The Truth from Becky

Yeah I know, thanks Daniel for your observations, a feather in "your" cap ole boy! - I meant exploration by NASA/USA/Houston, Texas... apart from this Lab's interest.

Jul. 05 2012 12:15 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Daniel

You explained much more to me in a few short sentences than that giggling physicist did in the 20 minutes that was alloted to her trying to explain it.
Thank you.

Jul. 05 2012 12:12 PM

In 1960 quantum mechanics found it inconvient for their equations to include mass. So they say "forget about mass". About 1964, higg's and others said "get real" you just can not say forget about mass, and showed how mass could be incorperated in to the quantum eqations. Since then search.

Physics jokes are hard to come by.

Dilbert said, "I discovered the higgs boson" as a dot glows in a tube.
The dot said "build me an arc", a tongue and cheeck to the "God" reference and Noah. Dilbert turned it off saying. "too much trouble".


James W. Faust

Jul. 05 2012 12:07 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Yike, of course I meant "matter had mass," not the other way around! That's what I get for typing too fast.

Jul. 05 2012 12:07 PM

Becky, this has nothing to do with NASA. These are experiments at CERN a large laboratory outside of Geneva, Switzerland. Not only is NASA not involved, but the US, despite so many universities in the US being involved, is not a member state of the laboratory.

Jul. 05 2012 12:06 PM

The Higgs field gives mass by providing an interaction for particles to take part in. Interactions mean energy, and in particle physics energy is mass. The stronger the particle interacts with the field that surrounds it, the more energy involved, the more mass it has.

The really great analogy often used is that it's like being in a room full of people, you try to walk through the room and maybe bump into a few people, slowing yourself down --- that's like having mass. Your toddler can run much quicker through the room because he doesn't bump into so many people --- he has less mass. Someone famous walks in and everyone crowds around him to say hello, and he has lots of trouble moving even a few feet --- he has a lot of mass.

Jul. 05 2012 12:04 PM
Amy from Manhattan

And of course mass had matter before the Higgs boson or the Higgs field was discovered (if that's confirmed later) or even theorized, & before there were humans to theorize about it. It's not a "new particle," as the people who explain it keep saying--if it exists, it's existed since the Big Bang or shortly after it. What's new is that it's been produced under circumstances that allow it to be detected.

Jul. 05 2012 12:02 PM
The Truth from Becky

Really wish someone who take this more seriously was here to speak about this subject, in any case I hope we can expand "exploration" real soon and Hopefully NASA will share the findings with us.

Jul. 05 2012 12:02 PM
Laura from UWS

FYI, via the BBC...the other part of the name:

"But what about the other part of this great name - boson? This, in fact, is also named after a physicist, Einstein's Indian contemporary, Satyendra Nath Bose."

Jul. 05 2012 11:58 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Irma

She also giggle a lot. I think she knows that she herself doesn't really understand what she's talking about, and that knowledge makes her giggle. If you can't explain a concept to a laymen audience, you shouldn't be on radio.

Jul. 05 2012 11:57 AM
John A

"Nova" executive producers, Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Needs the 1-hour treatment.

Jul. 05 2012 11:57 AM
Amy from Manhattan

OK, then how does the Higgs *field* give mass to matter?

Jul. 05 2012 11:56 AM
Opal S. from NYC

I hope this find will help with the betterment of mankind. The atom was used for very destructive purposes and possibly is one cause of global warming.

Jul. 05 2012 11:54 AM

With respect due to professor Lisa Randall, her explanations are far too wordy, obscure and complex for me to understand this otherwise interesting subject. That in addition to a very muffled, crackly phone line, are making this story more annoying than enjoyable to try to understand. Next time, can you get an expert who is more audience/layperson- friendly??

Jul. 05 2012 11:53 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

She's really good at NOT explaining anything. I was a technical writer in a former life, and learned that if an engineer or scientist couldn't explain things in a way that it could be grasped by a laymen, that they were actually fundamentally confused themselves.

Jul. 05 2012 11:51 AM
Laura from UWS

I studied Physics 101 but I'd like help!


I'm sort of lost already. Maybe suggest some easy to understand articles and books?


Jul. 05 2012 11:47 AM
Laura from UWS

About the name, from Wikipedia:
iggs is an atheist, and is displeased that the Higgs particle is nicknamed the "God particle",[28] as he believes the term "might offend people who are religious".[29] Usually this nickname for the Higgs boson is attributed to Leon Lederman, the author of the book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?, but the name is the result of the insistence of Lederman's publisher: Lederman had originally intended to refer to it as the "goddamn particle".[30]

Jul. 05 2012 11:44 AM
Ron Crockett

Besides the future research into the properties and processes of the Higgs boson, in what major ways did your world change because of this discovery?

Jul. 05 2012 11:43 AM
John A

I would appreciate it if you spent a minute of two on the story of how scientists concerned with the possibility of creating a (small) black hole at the LHC were disproved by other scientists.
& Thank-You for your visit, Dr. Randall.

Jul. 05 2012 11:21 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.