I awoke from a daze of delusional pain and euphoria following my recent surgery to hear that a team of scientists in CERN found the famous Higgs Boson Particle. As I watched the excitement of the scientific community as a gateway to a new scientific frontier swung wide open, I realized the search for the Higgs particle is almost a question of philosophy. To identify what this elusive particle is, one must ask the question: why does the universe around us have substance that is tangible, observable, and real?
This Higgs particle is a quite simple completion to the standard model of the atom. My understanding is that it is a particle that, if contained in a particular nucleus of subatomic particles, gives the overall atom its mass by interacting with the “Higgs field”—relate this field to the theoretical concept of space-time being a functional field that can be bent and warped by objects with gravitational attraction. In order for the Higgs particle to be fully understood, we need a new understanding of mass. In the standard model, mass is simply a description of a particle. Think of mass like we think of charge: there is no +1 or -1 charge; those are just the descriptions we give to particles to measure interactions. Just the same, a particle does not have mass if it does not interact with the Higgs field—i.e. containing the Higgs Boson. A particle can have mass, no mass, maybe even negative mass depending on its subatomic composition. Mass is the signature of the Higgs Boson.
So what does it mean that we have actually found this particle? Of course, it means more than CERN will finally move on to new things—dark matter to be exact, which I am immensely excited about. But it also answers the initial question of what gives rise to material in the universe. For so long we have known why particles interact on the molecular and even subatomic levels through chemistry and physics. We have come to terms with the cryptic disposition of electrons through quantum mechanics. Now, great machines built by human hands have revealed what gives mass. So where we arrive on the frontier of science is the acknowledgement that the substance of the universe can be perpetually defined and quantified, and now reality might be more than just what we can see and feel.