Since yesterday’s announcement of the pretty-much-discovery of Higg’s boson, I have read roughly thirty thousand million billion incomplete and badly written attempts to explain to people what Higg’s boson actually is, so I’m here to show you people how to fucking do this. I mean really, most of you just went “They discovered Higg’s boson! Watch this Youtube video to see what it is cuz I have no fucking idea!” Youtube appreciates your ignorance, but nobody else does.
Here we go: all matter is made up of tiny little bits called molecules. Molecules are composed of atoms, which can combine in different combinations to make all kinds of shit. Don’t worry about it, though; the molecules that make up, say, your arm are probably insanely complex and have ridiculous numbers of kinds of atoms and whatnot in them, so really, just leave it. Atoms in turn are composed of a proton/neutron nucleus which is orbited by electrons; these electrons hop to nearby atoms and are what binds molecules together, else all that would exist are elements. Certainly you wouldn’t have arms. Or even be a you. Protons and neutrons are in turn composed of elementary particles, which are in turn composed of nothing; they are the basic units of literally everything, ever. Oh, and electrons are also elementary particles. You’ve heard of elementary particles, surely: quarks and bosons and so forth.
That’s all well and good, but it leaves a few glaring problems. For one, the spaces between molecules/atoms/elementary particles are much, much bigger than the molecules/atoms/elementary particles themselves; science cannot concretely explain why your fist doesn’t pass through a person’s face when you punch them. For two, particles in and of themselves have no mass. Without mass, gravity cannot work, so this means science cannot concretely explain why you cannot fly. Well, more accurately, science can’t explain why you don’t aimlessly and helplessly float through some amorphous and insubstantial hellscape out of a Lovecraft story.
Clearly, something was missing from our understanding. People get punched in the face every day, and if we were living in an amorphous and insubstantial hellscape, it would seldom be debated. So one fine day in bonny old Europe, a bright gentleman named Peter Higgs theorized that there must be some thing that imbued mass upon all these crazyass particles so that gravity could work on them and they would become substantial, rather than bouncing around reeeeeally fast like light does.
That thing wasn’t easy to find, either. It’s popularly known as the God Particle, and the man who coined that phrase, Leon Lederman, Director Emeritus of Fermi, said he only called it the God Particle because his publisher wouldn’t let him call it the Goddamn Particle. According to him, that’s a far more appropriate name, and I’ll explain why.
Our much feted boson existed for (seriously) something like a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second at around a billionth of a second after the Big Bang banged. At this point the universe didn’t even come close to resembling anything a layperson could possibly conceive of as reality. It was formless, churning and really, like, unimaginably hot and composed of particles that mostly don’t even exist anymore. Matter and antimatter, most likely still raw and elemental and shapeless, were poised to entirely annihilate each other; nobody quite knows why they didn’t. By our current understanding, us and everything else shouldn’t exist. Congrats, everything you know and love is a massive, unexplained fluke. Somehow matter won out over antimatter, and we narrowly avoided living in a strange bizarro universe comprised entirely of goateed evil twins lamenting the annihilation of their goody-two shoes counterparts, forever doomed to wonder what the point of taking over the world even fucking is now. It’s science.
These conditions, as you might imagine, are hard to replicate, as is detecting the boson within these conditions. In fact, only the signs of its presence and the particular particles it breaks down into can be detected, which means the ten billion dollar Large Hadron Collider must burn up ungodly amounts of electricity over and over and over again to smash those hadrons together and the data must be analyzed each time to look for the places where Higg’s boson was, and to rule out any possibility of it having been some other particle of a similar size and that decays the same way. Ten billion dollars, 17 miles of ring-magneted tunnel, hundreds of the best scientists on Earth (half of whom are trying to convince idiots that they’re not going to spawn a black hole and wipe out mankind) and it’s still this hard. Goddamn Particle indeed.
Still, this boson is the source of every last bit of matter there is. It pretty much created gravity, or at least made it meaningful. It is the only reason anything besides a Lovecraftian hellscape can exist. In a manner of speaking, it created the universe, at least in the sense that it in conjunction with the graviton gave it its staggeringly complex and precise structure and the matter of which said structure is composed, which in turn created conditions in which life could be possible. So really, maybe the God Particle isn’t such a bad appellation after all.
Bear in mind, this is kind of a jokey piece by a layman. Scientific rigor was not even attempted, and in fact was amiably mocked. If I got anything outright wrong, though, I’d love to hear it.