Higgs Boson Discovery: Why It's Important to All of Us

 
 
By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-07-05 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

NEWS ANALYSIS: Even though there are no apparent practical applications for the discovery of the elusive Higgs Boson, a subatomic particle that gives mass to everything else in the universe, there is no telling what role it may play in the future. It will certainly expand our understanding of how the universe took shape.

It€™s impossible to overstate the importance of the Higgs Boson, the discovery of which was announced at CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire). Without this particle, you wouldn€™t exist. For that matter, the universe wouldn€™t exist. That€™s because the Higgs Boson creates a field that gives other particles mass, giving weight and shape to all the matter we see in the universe 

Or, to describe the indescribable, what the Higgs Boson does is create a field of virtual particles that pop in and out of existence, and while they€™re in existence those virtual particles provide mass to other particles that are able to interact with them. Photons, which are being created by the bazillion (to use the precise scientific term) by the monitor in front of you, are the particle manifestation of the electro-magnetic field we call €œlight.€ Photons are very real and depending on how they€™re observed can appear as either particles or waves. 

Photons have little mass, so little in fact that it takes something as massive as a star (or a former star in the form of a black hole) to affect them. In the rest of the universe, the photon can be considered massless. Another particle with which you€™re familiar is the electron, which does have mass, although not a lot. 

I mention the electron, because it illustrates why you may want to pay attention to the Higgs Boson. The electron was discovered in 1897, but while it was understood to play a role in electricity and in electrical transmission, the use of the electron itself didn€™t really happen until the development of electronics. And some of the electron€™s more interesting capabilities weren€™t understood until much more recently. 

For example, a major cause of power loss in electronic devices is due to a characteristic called electron tunneling. Because an observer can€™t know precisely where an electron is physically located, its position is a statistical probability. But the electron doesn€™t care where it probably is. The electron can be anywhere in a range of 1 to 3 nanometers. This means it can pass through a barrier or it can appear on an adjacent wire in an integrated circuit. 

But engineers can make use of this characteristic to create devices such as tunnel diodes. These are devices that have a number of useful characteristics, but the bottom line is that they are widely used in frequency converters and detectors.




 
 
 
 
Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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