Experimenting CLIL: school subjects in English / Physics

The God Particle

The CERN laboratory has amazed us again with its latest discovery in the field of elementary particles. The particle concerned is the Higgs boson, known as the “God particle”.

The Higgs boson was proposed in 1964 by the Scottish physicist Peter Higgs on the grounds of theoretical suppositions to explain why matter has a mass. Higgs thought that all our universe is permeated by an energy field, and its “messenger particle” was indeed called Higgs boson. Particles that strongly interact with this field have a large mass, while those that do it weakly have a smaller mass. You can imagine the Higgs field as a sea of thick jam that stops the particles immersed in it from moving around freely without any difficulty.

Another effective explanation of what the Higgs field is was given in 1993 by David Miller, a physicist from the University College of London, when the British Minister of Science, William Waldegrave, promised a bottle of champagne to the physicist who would give a comprehensible definition of the Higgs boson and its field.

Miller compared the Higgs field to a crowded room where lots of people are having a party. Suddenly a special guest enters the room. As he walks across, the people nearest him are attracted and crowd around him, hampering his movement. The guest acquires mass just like a particle moving through the Higgs field.

To give an idea of what a Higgs boson is, Miller suggested you imagine the same crowded room in which a rumor is going round: people who are closer to the door move towards it to get more details and then they report to people next to them, who in turn will pass on the information to who is next to them. The room is crossed by a succession of crowds made up of people telling others what happened outside the room. Each small crowd represents a Higgs boson, which is the “messenger” that allows the rumor to go around.

On the basis of the existence of the Higgs boson, the Standard Model was developed.

The Standard Model is the most feasible theory that explains the formation of the universe, and even though it is not a complete theory of fundamental interactions (because it does not involve the physics of dark matter and energy), it is theoretically self-consistent, it justifies lots of discoveries like the existence of quarks and tau-neutrinos, and furthermore it is the basis of every attempt to build new models that incorporates extra dimensions. However, until a few days ago the existence of the Higgs boson had never been proved, so the Standard Model on which the research is based was not justified!

Yet, in the last few days two Italian physicists that coordinate the experiments at the CERN laboratory stated that it won’t be long before the existence of the “God particle” will be proved. Experiments will likely show how massive the boson is within 2012, and this will give us the chance  to understand more about the changes our universe has undergone since its formation and how it will develop in the future.

Peter Higgs


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