At this very moment, Crox Minor is on a school trip to the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) where she’ll visit the Large Hadron Collider (A school trip! In my day we were lucky to get a day-trip to the Science Museum.) I have asked her to bring back a plush toy Higgs Boson for me. If they’ve run out, I said I’d settle for a W+, W- or even a Z0, he interposed, weakly. A cup of taus. Anything, really.
Notwithstanding inasmuch as which I have discussed the Boson in these columns previously, it behooves me to explain a little of how and why and what the Higgs Boson is made, is for, and whether I should let Crox Minor marry it, or if her feelings will be more, how should I say, fraternal (he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.)
Difficult concepts in physics are often explained by analogy with
cats dogs cats dogs. For example, when Mikhail in Moscow was on the phone to his friend Vladimir in Vladivostok, he explained telephony as a very long dachshund. You tweak the tail in Moscow and it barks in Vladivostok. Ah, says Vladimir, what about radio? That’s easy, says Mikhail: it’s just like telephones, but without the dachshund.
In like fashion one could say that the LHC is somewhat like getting Jack Russell terriers (JRTs) to smash into one another at close to the speed of light. Canis secundus croxorum is a Jack Russell terrier, and those who know her realise that she can move bloody fast when she has a shift on. Note in Fig 1 how the fast-moving JRT can be seen with its reflected anti-JRT and a shadow ‘supersymmetric’ counterpart.
Fig 1, recently.
Note that the analogy runs quite deeply here – in Fig. 2 one can see the luminosity cross-section [what?? - ed] and also the transient tracks of other
small dogs seagulls particles. New has reached mes oreilles that the LHC is basically a circular tube, rather like the Circle Line, and charged particles are induced to whizz around and round inside it. Now, particles will naturally travel in straight lines, so you need an awful lot of electromagnets to get them to run around in circles. Canis secundus croxorum goes one better – she runs round and round in circles without any further assistance, especially when she has seized Canis primus croxorum’s tennis ball and is teasing her with it.
But I digress.
So, you have two JRTs running round in circles, though in opposite directions, and they are made to collide. This collision releases an immense amount of energy, which, if you know anything about JRTs, especially when they are moving very fast, is entirely to be expected.
The result of such collisions is almost always shrapnel – toy poodles, Yorkies, King Charles spaniels, chihuahuas, small pieces of guinea pig, that sort of thing. Some fragments are, I daresay, rather common (Staffordshire bull terriers) although exotic by-products such as Lhasa Apsos are occasionally glimpsed.
At relativistic speeds, and at the energies deployed by the LHC, some of this energy can – very occasionally – get converted to mass in a number of arcane and eldritch ways so that in place of two speeding JRTs you get something both exotic and huge, such as a Leonberger. This is equivalent to a Higgs particle (did you see what I did there?) Such a rare particle, massive though it is, spontaneously decays into a Golden Retriever and a cat, as in Fig. 3.
Simple, really. Much simpler than telephony. After all, you need dachshunds for that.