Sunday, January 15, 2012

Say "Hello!" to Higg's Boson

Grandpa's Basic Building Blocks of the Universe

Basic Building Block of the Universe - 1960 High School Text

Basic Building Block of the Universe - 2005 -highly simplified

A man walks into a church while the priest is greeting communicants arriving for Mass. “I welcome you here, but I don’t remember you,” says the priest.
“I’m Higgs Boson,” says the man, “and you don’t remember me because I’ve always been invisible until now.”
The priest smiles to himself and says, “Invisible or no, I assume you’ve always been a good Catholic?”
Boson smiles and says, “I’m everything and everywhere, Catholic included.”
The priest frowns and says, “Well I’m not sure if you’re welcome if you’re that undecided . . .  denominationally, I mean!”
               “Oh, but you have no choice,” says Higgs. “Without me you can’t have mass!”

This “joke,” adapted from the internet, wouldn’t have meant anything to me if I hadn’t read Frank Close’s The Infinity Puzzle or recently heard Bob McDonald explain on the CBC News that the Hadron Collider in Switzerland was on the verge of proving the existence of the so-called “Higg’s Boson.” It’s all part of Quantum Physics' struggle to break the universe down to its smallest, most basic components and their interactions, thereby establishing once-and-for-all, a theory of everything.
               I doubt that anyone could explain all this to me in so simple a form that I would be able to say, “Oh, I get it now!” The need for the existence of a Higg’s Boson was worked out mathematically on a blackboard by physicists; the Hadron Collider is designed to accommodate experiments which prove or disprove what has been theorized.
               The Higg’s Boson is often called “The God particle,” especially by the media. Simply put, the Higg’s Boson is theorized to enable bundles of energy to acquire mass . . . become matter, if you will. (Do you get the pun now? Silly, isn’t it.) Without its effects, the molecules that form the rocks and the soil, the vegetation and the animal and human life on earth, the stars and the planets, would not exist, so the theory goes.  
               The technique for finding Higg’s Boson is simple; you fire streams of protons at high speed so they collide and disintegrate, and then you examine the pieces to find what the composition was. It’s a lot like figuring out what’s wrong with a certain model of car by colliding two of them at top speed and sorting through the debris!
               What does it mean for you and me? Besides determining who wins the next Nobel Prize for Physics (for which there is fierce competition!), not much. Even the strictest creationist should see that the Higg’s Boson—if it exists—has always existed and that the God of Creation is also God of the Higg’s Boson, which may—if it exists—be comfortably seen as one important tool in making possible the miracles of life, love and human consciousness.
               But there’ll be more rhetoric coming out around this. Already, the internet is filling up with it; many of its participants obviously knowing little about the subject.
There is no competition between Science and God. Discovering and describing how the universe works has always been a part of human nature; when it gets more complicated than the cross breeding of plants to produce more food, however, we sometimes feel threatened and become defensive.
We should get over it!

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