- (Screenshot via YouTube/BBC Radio 4)
Dr. Peter Higgs, the theoretical physicist who discovered the Higgs boson, also known as the "God particle," attempted to describe the fundamental particle in the most basic way he could in a recent interview.
Higgs, 84, recently described the particle, considered to be a fundamental building block of the universe, in a short, two-minute simplified version on the BBC Radio 4 program "The Life Scientific." The physicist said the particle basically enables other particles in the universe to acquire mass.
"… these particles are just packages of energy of some kind of field," the scientist began explaining on BBC Radio 4. "And the feature [that] distinguishes this kind of theory, which leads to this kind of symmetry breaking, is the existence of what we, theoretical physicists, call the vacuum, which means nowadays something different from what it used to mean. It's just the lowest energy state that you could possibly have in which there are no particles around but there may be something around. And that something around can be a background field of some sort, which pervades the universe."
"In this theory, there is such a background field. And the background field, its interaction with all the other stuff that goes through, is responsible for generating the masses and mass differences of the other particles, elementary particles, [those] which are packages of all the energy in other fields. Simply because the background affects the way the waves propagate."
"But then, the field itself can be excited, or classically to give you waves to the packages of energy of that are the Higgs boson. So it's an extra which comes with this type of theory, that you need to have something there, which is the excitation of the background field."
In response to Higgs' brief description, host Jim Al-Khalili said: "For me, that's a beautifully eloquent explanation of what the Higgs field is or what the Higgs mechanism is." He then jokingly asked if Higgs could perhaps explain the God particle in 30 seconds, to which the theoretical physicist replied a definitive "no."
In his interview, Higgs also offered a candid reflection on the recent fame he has gained for discovering the God particle, saying that "it's a bit of a nuisance sometimes, frankly" when people ask him for his autograph on the street.
Higgs first began researching the God particle in the 1960s, and his discovery was confirmed in 2012 when scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, confirmed the theory by using a Large Hadron Collider, a giant machine that smashes atoms into their most fundamental states. Higgs, along with François Englert, who also developed the theory for the God particle the same year as Higgs, have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.