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Frequently Asked Questions about the Higgs particle


  • What is the Higgs Particle?
  • Higgs particle is the manifestation of the hypothetical Higgs field that is everywhere in the universe and gives mass to the elementary particles.
  • What are elementary particles?
  • Elementary particles are the ultimate building blocks of matter. These particles, unlike atoms, molecules, protons or neutrons, for example, are not made up of anything smaller.
  • How does the Higgs field give mass to the elementary particles?
  • Elementary particles interact with the Higgs field. More "sticky" to the Higgs field they are, more mass they have.
  • What would it mean if the Higgs particle were discovered?
  • If the Higgs particle was discovered that would mean that the Higgs field, or something that is very much like it, is responsible for the generation of the mass of elementary particles.
  • Why is the discovery of the Higgs particle important?
  • The discovery of the Higgs particle would show that, for the first time in history, mankind has a real understanding of mass at the fundamental level.
  • How is the mass of the elementary particles related to mass I am familiar with?
  • Most every object we are familiar with has mass, the only exception being light. The vast majority of the mass of objects, for example that of an elephant, is explainable in terms of Einstein's famous equation E=MC2 which relates mass, M, the energy, E, and the speed of light, C. Essentially,the elementary particles that ultimately make up the elephant have kinetic or potential energy that makes up its mass. The fact that elementary particles themselves have mass on their own has been, so far, a mystery.
  • Is there a practical use for the Higgs particle?
  • There is no known practical use for the Higgs particle, or for the knowledge we gain from its discovery. On the other hand, fundamental advances in science often lead to some revolutionary practical application in the long term. When Benjamin Franklin advanced the knowldege of the nature of electricity with his famous kite experiments, he had no way to know of the eventual practical use of electricity. He would be astonished to learn about the electric car.
  • Would the discovery of the Higgs particle mean that our understanding of particle physics is complete?
  • No. Mankind has only scratched the surface of the mysteries of the universe. The discovery of the Higgs would be an important step in bringing us to the next stage of understanding. However, as with all worthwhile discoveries, it will point us towards new mysteries.
  • What is CERN and the LHC?
  • CERN is an international physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located at CERN, is the world's biggest particle collider that has a circumference of 17 miles and is located 300 feet below ground. The LHC collides protons together at the energy, currently, of 8 TeV (tera electron volts). One of the major missions of the LHC is to clarify our understanding of the Higgs field.
  • What are ATLAS and CMS?
  • ATLAS and CMS are the two of the experimental apparatus (detectors) at the LHC to study the collisions produced by the LHC. ATLAS and CMS also refer to the international collaboration of scientists who built and operate the detectors and also analyze the data from the detectors. ATLAS, for example, is a collaboration of about 3000 physicists from 174 different universities and laboratories from 38 different countries. The ATLAS detector is about 75 feet in diameter and 150 feet long, and weighs 7000 tons. This enormous detector is finely instrumented and produce about 100 million pieces of information about the collisions every 25 nanoseconds. (A nanosecond is a billionth of a second.)
  • What is Argonne's role in the Higgs hunt?
  • A team of physicists and engineers from the Argonne National Laboratory are founding members of the ATLAS collaboration. Argonne has been and continue making significant contributions to the Higgs research including a major part in the construction and operation of the ATLAS detector and analysis of the signals recorded by the detector in order to uncover the underlying phenomena.

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