Higgs boson discovery ‘mind-blowing,’ says Chilliwack scientist

Discovery of the 'god particle' may not mean much yet to our daily lives, but it may open doors to future discoveries unimagined.

Theoretical particle physics isn’t the usual stuff of community newspapers.

But because last week’s discovery of the Higgs boson — aka “the god particle” — goes a long way to explaining how everything in the universe came to be, a localized story might not be too far a stretch.

The Progress has also learned that a graduate from the University of the Fraser Valley worked on a team looking for the elusive particle by smashing photons together at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland.

Jennifer Godfrey could not be reached Monday for an interview, but Tim Cooper, a theoretical nuclear physicist at UFV explained what a Higgs boson is, and what it means to you and me.

“To be honest, not that much at the moment,” he said.

But to scientists, he said, it is a huge step toward confirming “the standard model” of how the universe formed after the Big Bang.

Unfortunately, in mathematical terms, the standard model worked only if the particles had no mass.

“But we know particles do have mass,” Cooper said.

So, in the 1960s, a physicist named Peter Higgs postulated a field that interacted with other known fields — the electrical field that generates electrons; the electro-magnetic field that generates photons — which would give those particles the mass we see in the universe around us.

Scientists have been looking for the “god particle” this Higgs field would generate ever since.

Cooper said the problem has been the very high energy needed to shatter a photon in a collider to produce the Higgs particle, and the very short lifespan of the particle (if it existed) which would make it that much more difficult to detect.

“Now we know exactly where to look … it’s going to be much easier,” he said, for physicists to duplicate the discovery and confirm the existence of the Higgs boson.

After that, who knows what future discoveries may be made?

Dr. Carin Bondar, a molecular biologist in Chilliwack who writes an Internet blog on things scientific, agreed the Higgs discovery “isn’t going to mean much on a day-to-day level.”

“But to scientists, it’s so massive, it’s the last piece of the puzzle. If (the Higgs) wasn’t there … we would need to rewrite everything we know about physics,” she said.

However, the discovery may also open doors to things yet unimagined, she agreed, like the discovery of the electron that has led to every electronic device we see in use today.

“It’s mind-blowing,” she said, about the possibilities.

Chilliwack Progress