On July 4th this year, CERN scientists reporting from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have claimed the discovery of a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson. The particle has been the subject of a 45-year hunt to explain how matter attains its mass.
"Every particle is either a boson or a fermion” explains Dr. John Ellis, former CERN theorist and currently professor at King's College in London, who also presented at BOLDtalks 2010 on the world's biggest and most expensive experiment - the Large Hydron Colider. Dr. Ellis further explains that “all known particles spin like small tops, with the known bosons that carry the fundamental interactions – such as the photon, the quantum of light that carries the electromagnetic force – spinning at twice the rate of the fermion particles that make up matter particles such as electrons and quarks.”
A practical application of the spin of nuclear particles is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a technique used for the early detection of a number of diseases. In order to produce high-resolution images of organs to facilitate medical diagnoses, MRI analyses the alignment of nuclear spins.
Since the newly discovered particle decays into pairs of known bosons, it is certainly also a boson. However, we also see that it does not spin the same way as a photon. If it were a Higgs boson, it would not spin at all. This is what physicists call a scalar boson, and it would be the first elementary scalar boson ever seen. However, the possibility that the new particle spins at a larger rate than a photon cannot be yet claimed.
Either way, the newly discovered particle would be the first of a new class of particles. Will this change our everyday lives? The question has no immediate answer because history tells us that any practical application – such as the above example of MRI – might take years to develop or might never really happen. However, whatever the future brings, physicists can already see that the new particle holds important information that will provide new insight into the workings of the Universe. Nature still holds many mysteries, and understanding this one may unlock the doors to others.
Dr. Joh Ellis joins BOLDtalks 2013 to explain the exact meaning of this breakthrough discovery, and what it might mean for future science in understanding what the Universe is made of.
BOLDtalks 2013 is scheduled for March 2nd, at Madinat Jumeirah Theatre, Dubai.