Skip to main content

Higgs and the holy grail of physics

By Lawrence M. Krauss, Special to CNN
July 6, 2012 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
A proton-proton collision produced in the Large Hadron Collider shows characteristics in line with the decay of a Higgs boson particle. A proton-proton collision produced in the Large Hadron Collider shows characteristics in line with the decay of a Higgs boson particle.
HIDE CAPTION
Searching for the 'God particle'
Searching for the 'God particle'
Searching for the 'God particle'
Searching for the 'God particle'
Searching for the 'God particle'
Searching for the 'God particle'
Searching for the 'God particle'
Searching for the 'God particle'
Searching for the 'God particle'
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Physicists discovered a new particle that appears to be the highly sought after Higgs boson
  • Lawrence Krauss: Our understanding of physical reality has changed forever
  • He says the Higgs is the key to unlocking the question: Why does matter have mass?
  • Krauss: Higgslike particle gets us closer to solving the mystery of the universe and our origin

Editor's note: Lawrence M. Krauss is director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University and the author, most recently of, "A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing" (Free Press, 2012).

(CNN) -- Our understanding of physical reality — of everything and nothing — has changed forever. We don't yet know where we are heading, but nothing will ever be the same. As a scientist, I don't know what more I could ask for.

On July 4, two independent teams of more than 3,000 physicists apiece from more than 40 countries working at the largest particle accelerator on Earth at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, gathered to announce to the world the discovery of a new elementary particle.

This was not just any elementary particle. It was a particle that appears to have all the characteristics of the Higgs boson, which was first predicted by physicists in 1964 and became the most sought-after particle ever since.

Lawrence M. Krauss
Lawrence M. Krauss

The Higgs particle is an essential part of the Standard Model of particle physics, one of the most beautiful theories ever created by the human mind. The model provides an eloquent description of almost all of nature as we have observed in experiments in a few equations that can fit on a T-shirt.

The only problem was that no experiment had ever provided evidence that the Higgs particle actually exists.

Why is the 'God particle' a big deal?
Linking the 'God particle' to Bieber
Scientists confirm 'God Particle' exists

News: Higgs boson is like... a Justin Bieber fan?

Without the Higgs, the heart of the Standard Model is missing. The Higgs is associated with an invisible field predicted to permeate throughout all of space interacting with particles to give them mass. The Higgs is the key to unlocking the question: Why does matter have mass?

Equally importantly, the Higgs allows two of the four forces in nature -- the electromagnetic force and the weak force, which is responsible for most nuclear reactions -- to be unified and described by mathematics of the same type that describe the other two known forces, the so-called strong force and gravity. Quantum mechanics tells us that if such a Higgs field exists, then one can produce real particles out of the field if one throws enough energy into a small enough volume.

The discovery of this new particle is notable for what it tells us, but also for what it doesn't. There were some intriguing anomalies in the observation of this Higgslike particle. For example, the rate at which the new particle is produced seems to be slightly higher than the one predicted in the Standard Model. However, this could merely be a statistical fluke that results from the fact that to date only a few score of Higgs candidate events have been observed amongst billions of particle collisions.

There are still important unanswered questions about the Standard Model and we have to verify that this remarkable theoretical house of cards can stand on its own. Deviations from the Standard Model prediction, if they are confirmed by more data, can shed light on these unknowns.

What is the Higgs boson and why is it important?

First and foremost is the question of how the invisible background field tied to the existence of the Higgs came to be and why it has the properties it does. This field is simply posited to exist, and apparently it does.

The Higgslike particle takes us a step closer to solving the mystery of the universe, which is inextricably connected to the mystery of our own origin. Likewise, other new physics is now more likely to be uncovered at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, which will add to our knowledge base.

We might, for example, find the particles that make up more than 90% of the matter in our galaxy and all galaxies, which look dark to our eyes. And we might be provided with clues that reveal the trail to unraveling the ultimate holy grail of fundamental particle physics -- a quantum theory of gravity.

Imagine that the visible universe and everything in it was once contained in a volume many times smaller than the size of a single atom. With a quantum theory of gravity, we may be able to trace the Big Bang expansion back to its very beginning, and understand precisely how our universe arose, presumably from nothing.

Read more science news on Light Years

Whatever new door to reality the discovery of Higgs opens for us, the best days may be ahead. That possibility is what energizes us, and makes the continued effort to probe new corners of nature such an exciting part of the human adventure.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lawrence M. Krauss.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT