9 July 2012

Wondering Why The Higgs Discovery Is Such A Big Deal? Here’s Help.

Posted by Dan Satterfield

I highly recommend this series of lectures. The Teaching Company puts all their courses on sale frequently at a huge discount, so keep watching for it. Click to go to the Great Courses site.

I saw an excellent piece about the HIggs discovery today that is worth passing on. Two well written pieces actually, one in Forbes and the other by Garance Franke Ruta in the Atlantic. Both of these articles are well worth a read, but if you really want to have an understanding of why this is such a big deal, you will need to spend a bit more time.

Albert Einstein famously said “that everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”. This hits the nail on the head when it comes to particle physics, because it is not something that can be understood in a few sentences or a paragraph. That said, there are some excellent books out there that do a fantastic job and do not require a love of differential equations! So, what follows are my recommendations for getting up to speed on the subject, and if you have any curiosity at all, I think you will truly find it very fascinating.

Start with a blog post I wrote after an interview with Neil de Grasse Tyson. I asked Dr. Tyson about the Higgs, and his answer was typically brilliant. British Astrophysicist Brian Cox did a fantastic TED talk on the LHC that I posted on this blog as well.

Also, the Teaching Company has a set of lectures that are just superb. Click the image above to order. No, not cheap, but worth every penny and again, you need no higher math background. Click on the book images in his post for the best books I’ve read on the subject as well. Ian Sample’s Massive and Amir Aczel’s Present At The Creation are among my favourites, but Frank Close has written some truly great books as well, like Neutrino . It’s also a must read.

Me at the Pole after signing the detector. Inside the building it was a nice pleasant -27C!

I was actually lucky enough to visit ICE CUBE, the neutrino detector buried beneath the South Pole. It is made up of detectors that catch the flash of blue light made when a neutrino happens to hit a quark! Perhaps, I’m insanely interested in it is because my name is on one of those detectors, buried a kilometer beneath the ice at the bottom of the world!

If you wonder about whether the 6 billion dollars it took to build the Large Hadron Collider were worth it, check out this piece in Pop Sci by Brian Cox. Dr. Carl Kruszelnicki says that building the LHC was a pretty good deal, considering it only cost the equivalent of three American B 1 Bombers. Just imagine what we might do if we built something that cost ten B1’s!

The books and videos above will take you some time to read and watch, but they all do one thing: They make particle physics as simple as possible, but no simpler. Trust me, you will be amazed at how strange our Universe really is!