My Questions Answered!

Ask OxSciBlog: Higgs Boson – University of Oxford

As you’ve been busy sending in your questions for Oxford scientists I thought we ought to start giving some answers:

First up is a question from Daniel Griliopoulos which is answered by Alan Barr from Oxford’s Department of Physics.

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Q: What’s going to happen if they don’t find the Higgs Boson?

[Also regarding that; to this layman, it just looks like physicists are trying to bury something they don’t understand (gravity) in another fundamental particle, am I being unfair?]

Alan Barr: The Higgs mechanism was proposed by Prof Peter Higgs of Edinburgh (and others) to explain why many of the fundamental particles in the Standard Model of particle physics have mass. The experimental results obtained so far – for example at the Large Electron Positron collider, which was the predecessor to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN – are fully in agreement with Higgs’ theory. A further prediction of Higgs’ theory is the existence of the particle which bears his name, but which has not yet been directly observed.

If the Higgs particle (also known as the Higgs Boson) is not found after many years of successful operation of the LHC, then the theory in its simplest form cannot be correct. This would be a very important discovery, and would inspire further research, and alternative models. Alternative theories of mass generation would have to be found, and those theories would be guided by the measurements of the LHC experiments, ATLAS and CMS.

Despite being a description of the source of mass, the Higgs theory has surprisingly little to say about gravity. To incorporate gravitational interactions into the Standard Model would require further theoretical advances. Some progress has been made through routes such as string theory, but a quantum theory of gravity remains elusive.

It is an important feature of science that we do not bury things we do not understand. Instead we address them directly and attempt to understand them. Based on the results of existing observations we construct models which we use to make predictions about future measurements. This allows the theories to be tested against empirical evidence – which is exactly what we will do with the Higgs theory at the LHC.

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