In “Can physicists crack the big puzzle?” ( MSNBC Cosmic Log, November 30, 2011), Alan Boyleinterviews Oxford physicist Frank Close on his new book, The Infinity Puzzle , wherein we learn that “an even bigger puzzle remains: Why is the cosmos built the way it is?” Meanwhile,
Q: When it comes to the Higgs boson, the question has arisen as to whether it actually exists. One of my colleagues has joked that if it’s found, that’s worth a Nobel. And if it’s ruled out, that’s worth a Nobel as well. Is that the way it works?
A: The idea that has led to the Higgs boson is a piece of beautiful mathematics. Whether nature actually does it is a question that only experiments can answer. Although the theorists are the ones that get all the press … the Einsteins and the other names that trip off the tongue … it’s ultimately the experiments that decide. That’s where we are at the moment.
The idea that there should be a Higgs boson, or something else that masquerades as that particle, has been around for a long time. It’s only now that are finally able to do the experiments that will tell us one way or the other if that is the case. And if it is the case, we might find out exactly how nature plays this particular trick. When Peter Higgs and a group of other people first put the idea forward, they were trying to solve a particular conundrum, and they came up with the simplest way of doing it — that is, that there was a single particle known as the Higgs boson. That was 50 years ago. Since then, people have refined those original ideas, based on the discoveries we have made.
There are several possible ideas as to how nature might actually do this conjuring trick. It might be there’s a whole family of particles called Higgsinos and other weird names. It might not be a simple particle. It might be a compound — just as an atom has a nucleus that’s made of protons and neutrons, which are made of smaller things called quarks, there might be new sorts of particles waiting to be found, called techniquarks, which collectively act as if they were a single boson.
It might be those, it might be something else. We simply don’t know. And that’s the exciting thing. Nature knows the answer at the moment, and we’re trying to find out at last what it is.
We didn’t know that nature was a personality who could know anything, but we didn’t know about Higgsinos and such …
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