Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Particular Challenge

By Simon Grose

The biggest science story of 2012 poses a riddle about a particle locked in a field, wrapped in a mystery and out of the ordinary.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (sciencemedia.com.au).

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A golden rule for science journalism is never report or comment on something you don’t understand. So when CERN reported evidence of the existence of the Higgs boson it was time for research.

Dr Karl was quickly online to provide a ten-point explainer. He mentioned Lady Gaga, Hugh Jackman and the Loch Ness Monster, scoring high for entertainment but not so hot for physics education. Same for every other explanation that poured into cyber space.

Get serious: dive into Particle Physics from A to Z by John Gribbin, doyen of physics communication, who defines the Higgs as a “particle invoked to explain why the carriers of the electroweak force (the W and Z bosons) have mass”.

Mmmm. Check “electroweak force” and “boson”. The former is one of four “forces of nature” along with gravity, electromagnetism and the strong force. Sensible number that, for forces of nature. Bosons are “particles that obey Bose-Einstein statistics”, which are “statistical rules which apply to the behaviour of quantum particles which carry an integer amount of quantum spin”. More mmmm, slipping towards duh. Return to start.

Mass. The Higgs boson’s role in the emerging Theory of Everything is to imbue everything in the theory with mass.

Gribbin says mass is “the amount of stuff there is in an object”. Phew, got that. Read on: “mass and energy are interchangeable”: see E...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.