Friday, January 26, 2007

Higgstory in the making?

How can anyone read the opening lines of John Conway's post about the hunt for Higgs boson and not get glued to their monitor?

"I’ve been looking for the Higgs boson for almost 20 years.
So there I was, on a Saturday morning in December, at CERN as it so happened, when I saw the graph we’d been working towards all year. At first I thought it was some mistake - the hair literally rose up on the back of my neck, and I said: 'Holy crap! What’s that?'"

John's post--and you don't have to be a particle physicist to comprehend it--provides a fascinating story of his personal involvement in the search for this ellusive particle. Along the way, he offers a basic description of what it is: "The Higgs boson is a particle which is essentially a by-product of the Standard Model, a sort of physical manifestation of a hypothetical 'Higgs field' which permeates all space-time and with which all particles have some level of interaction."

John compares the search for Higgs boson with the scientific quest that began, a hundred years ago, to work out the periodic table of the elements, an elegant framework that orders elements into into neat rows and columns according to their chemical properties.

"It took...thirty years of experimenting and theorizing to figure it out. That led to quantum mechanics, the solution to the hydrogen atom, and then the understanding of more complex atoms and molecules. Then it all broke open: nuclear energy, silicon electronics, computers, cell phones..."

So, are we on the verge of a history-making discovery that will similarly break open a new pandora's box full of: nuclear fusion, quantum computers and artificial intelligence, anti-gravity, and...and (gasp) faster-than-light travel...? i can't wait to read Part II John's Higgstory as it unfolds.

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