Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Peeping Bosons


Those who follow this blog know that from time to time I like to think a bit about physics, so it comes as no surprise that I make comment today on that faint aroma, that cloud the size of a man’s fingernail, that shrug of eternity, the Higgs. Few of us, myself included, have an intimate working knowledge of that ultimate racetrack-cum-wrecking-ball , the Large Hadron Collider about which I have written elsewhere, the worker bees who drive it  yesterday announced that they “might have found something”.  So far, it’s nothing more than a twinkle in the eye of God, but we live, as always, in hope.
Nevertheless, despite such earth-shattering news (pun intended), I am irritated. Those who know me realise that this is merely a fa├žade, concealing a sunny urbane interior, but it is surely not beyond the pronunciation skills of the least literate BBC journalist to pronounce its name correctly. We get ‘ bozen’, ‘bosun’, even more improbably, ‘bozone’. It’s BOH-ZON, people. Do try to get it right.
Fearful and even wonderful

My A level class know about bosons. We talk about them a lot. Not the Higgs, I have to say, it’s a bit exotic even for us. For those unfamiliar, a boson is an exchange particle. Imagine two battleships firing cannon at each other. The guns, hence ships recoil as the guns are fired, representing the repulsive force between two protons, let’s say, in close proximity. As they do so, they exchange gunfire in the form of explosive shells. The shells are the ‘exchange particles’. To see a little animation, have a look here. Not difficult so far and all the other bosons have lost their virginity to the rapacious onslaughts of particle accelerators. Except the Higgs, which might have been peeping out the other day. Unfortunately, if we take it a few steps further we find ourselves enmeshed in labyrinthine gauge field theory and other exotica beyond my limited intelligence. Simply put, however, the Higgs confers mass on the building blocks of matter (quarks and leptons) and the mass of something is a measure of its resistance to being pushed around. Now, there’s something we can all understand.

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