There’s nothing godly about the God particle

Last Updated: Wed, Jul 04, 2012 20:38 hrs
Scientists discover Higgs Boson?

Science is making great strides forward and all the stuff we learnt in our textbooks years back has become total inadequate to deal with the current reality.

Take the God particle for example. Most of the common populace is deeply mystified by this strange divine particle that miraculously gives mass to the universe. It's as if suddenly science has found the key to a major mystery that has been puzzling mankind for thousands of years.
The truth is far from that.

The Greeks thought that the atom was the most basic part of matter and couldn't be sub-divided further and similar views were held by physicists like Isaac Newton who also invoked God to make his point.

Decades back we learnt in school that the atom could indeed be divided into the proton, neutron and electron. The problem is that this is the view held by many people across the world: That there are only three elementary particles as mentioned above.

The second fallacy is that they think something like the Large Hadron Collider came only recently at CERN.

The fact is that colliders or particle accelerators have been around for decades! Work for them started as early as the 1950s. The only difference is that they have been getting bigger and bigger and the current LHC has a circumference of 27 kms! In fact they are even planning a bigger and better Super Large Hadron Collider.

Now while the colliders have many achievements, one of the biggest is that they have been discovering one sub-atomic particle after another. In all they have discovered dozens (yes, dozens) of such particles.

The Standard Model is the new model of particle physics.

Now guess out of the dozens of particles discovered, how many are "elementary"?

16! Yes, that's right.

Let's name them: up, down, charm, strange, top, bottom, (all quarks), electron, muon, tau, electron neutrino, muon neutrino, tau neutrino, (all leptons) (all quarks and leptons are fermions), photon, gluon, Z boson, W boson (all gauge bosons).

(Confused? Weren't you happy with just electrons, protons and neutrons?)

Now where does the grand God particle fit into all of this? It's merely the fifth gauge boson or 17th sub-atomic elementary particle of the Standard Model!

Now imagine two headlines…

God particle discovered!

17th sub-atomic elementary particle of the Standard Model discovered.

Now I don't have to tell you which article will sell more in the media!

In fact the God particle comes from the book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? by Physics Nobel laureate Leon M. Lederman. Interestingly he once said that he wanted to call it the Goddamn particle in the title but was dissuaded by the publisher. Now that would have set back news coverage by quite a bit!

Now you may have heard experts talking about how important it is because it gives mass to the universe. But then it's not just mass, everything is important for physics. Gravity. Speed of light. The strong force. The weak force. Electromagnetic force. Relativity… It's just that other things were discovered and this one wasn't till now.

What about dark matter and dark energy? String theory? Then there's something called the Theory of Everything which we are nowhere near cracking. Each and every discovery in physics is quite exciting.

If you have noticed, then the proton and neutron are not in the above list of 16. They are not elementary particles but composite particles called baryons and made up of three quarks each. And what are baryons? They are hadrons. And they are smashed to get more particles and now you probably know why it's called a hadron collider.

So Pluto is not the only thing that got downgraded. Talking of Pluto and the solar system, even that world view has changed. In school we learned of nine planets and an asteroid belt.

Well today we know of the solar system as four inner rocky planets followed by the asteroid belt with thousands of objects, four outer large gaseous and icy planets, followed by the Kuiper Belt with tens of thousands of objects of which just one is Pluto! Now wonder it was downgraded.
Beyond that is the Oort Cloud with trillions (yes trillions) of icy objects that become can become comets if they stray. Beyond that there's also an unsubstantiated theory that there may be another dwarf star called Nemesis making our solar system a binary star system!

Then there's nanotechnology, chaos theory, fractals… the list is endless. Many new exciting fields are coming out, some which don't get that much attention.

Merely by naming a particle "God" doesn't make it the be all and end all of things. It is just one stop in a long journey in which Physics still has a long way to go!

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