Scientists in Europe announced Tuesday morning that they have found evidence that the elusive “God particle,” the Higgs boson, actually exists.
The scientists have stopped short of claiming discovery, but in a press conference livestreamed from the European research institute CERN, they said that they’re getting close to finding it.
And what, exactly is it? According to Scientific American’s Kelly Oakes, the Higgs boson is the smallest part of the Higgs field, which physicists believe gives all matter the property of mass. Translated and oversimplified, that means that nothing would have weight without the Higgs field. For academics, finding the particle would complete a puzzle about the universe that’s been bugging them for decades.
What does Tuesday’s announcement mean for technology?
Honestly, very little, said University of Maryland physics department chairman Drew Baden. It is “merely a look-see as to where the experiments are in looking for new particles, not seen since the first trillionth of a second after the big bang,” he said.
But Baden said that the technology that CERN developed for its research has spun off other valuable advances.
“Much of the progress in accelerators comes out of this kind of basic research,” he said in an e-mail, pointing to technology used in food radiation and cancer therapy. People are now working on laser-powered accelerators, he said, and future applications of that work could create sci-fi-like particle beams.
CERN research has also spawned technology used in data mining, a way to look for significant results from a tangle of data, based on the work from Sir Tim Berners-Lee when he was at CERN.
Looking far ahead into the future, the Higgs boson could help scientists unlock the secrets of mass itself, said Steven Nahn, an associate professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Think about 100 years ago,” he said. “One hundred years ago, we couldn’t control the electron. Now I can talk to you on something the size of a credit card from miles away. Imagine what you could do if you could control mass like that. That’s science fiction right now, but so was electrodynamics.”
“There’s no killer app for what we could do with the Higgs boson in our hands right now,” Nahn said. “But there’s a lot of potential there.”
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