Saturday, July 7, 2012

star stuff // higgs boson!

If you're anything like me, you probably got super excited when you heard about the Higgs boson discovery this week even though you had absolutely no idea what it was or why it was so important. All I knew at first was that lots of physicists seemed to be very happy, so that made me happy too. Then I decided to do some investigating to find out what all the fuss was about!

It's complicated stuff. I must have read at least 10 articles that were supposed to explain it in a way that non-scientists would understand, but it was still pretty baffling. They'd be like "I'm going to go ahead and assume you already know the properties of a quark. Well imagine if a quark suddenly turned into another element. 92% of the time that would be caused by this event but we can only predict it 2.3% of the time, the other 97.7% of the time this process is governed by another law of physics that you don't understand but I'm going to pretend that you do."

You see, there's a problem with explaining physics to people who don't know physics by using PHYSICS lingo! You need to put it in terms we can understand. For instance, compare it to snow:

Snow I can understand. I can wrap my brain around this. Combined with this article (I found the video in this one completely useless though) it's beginning to make some sense. If I'm understanding it correctly (I'm probably not) it seems that the Higgs boson creates matter, and it would have attracted the elements that created the big bang. My grasp on the concept is still incredibly loose (what I wouldn't give to have Neil deGrasse Tyson on speed dial!) but I think I'm closer to understanding thanks to this video.

I love things that make science approachable for right-brained people. I'm a pretty smart cookie but start trying to explain something to me in terms of quarks and nuclei and I get lost very quickly. I love that people like John Ellis, the physicist in the video, help curious non-scientific minds grasp concepts that are otherwise out of our reach.

I thought this video from one minute physics was sort of helpful, although it also relied a little too heavily on a prior knowledge of physics that I'm sadly lacking. Also this faux-interview with the Higgs boson particle was pretty funny (and the 2nd answer is relatively informative.) If anyone has any links to layman Higgs boson information please leave them in the comments! I'd love to learn more :)