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On the latest countdown to the Higgs boson

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In Britain’s The Guardian (December 6, 2011), Ian Sample asks a good question: “Is the Higgs Boson real?” A better question, while we wait, is Why do some need it to be?

If the rumours are right and precede a discovery, it means the Higgs boson weighs as much as two copper atoms. That fits quite well with a theory called supersymmetry, which gives physicists a way to unify the four known forces of nature, a feat that frustrated Einstein to the grave.

But enough of the rumours. When the seminar was announced – and before the rumours surfaced – I asked some physicists to share, in a couple of simple sentences, their hunches on what gives mass to fundamental particles. Is it the simplest version of the Higgs mechanism, which gives us what is called the Standard Model Higgs boson? Is it a more complex kind of Higgs field? Or something else entirely? I hoped the replies would give a flavour of the range of views they hold.

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