Last year on July 4, 2012, scientists at CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, announced the possible discovery of the Higgs boson, a particle that’s suspected to be the answer to why matter has mass. Now they’re almost certain they've nailed our final understanding of the structure of matter.
The prospect of the Higgs boson is so central to the state of physics today that it’s been referred to as, the “God Particle,” derived from a 1993 popular science book by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon M. Lederman and writer Dick Teresi called, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? Though Lederman has said that this nickname was the result of his publisher rejecting what he thought was a more appropriate title, The Goddam Particle.
Still, scientists predicted the existence of the Higgs boson long before they could empirically verify the particle. They imagined it to be the missing piece to the standard model of particle physics, which reduces matter to its basic building blocks and allows scientists to answer questions about the forces that act on it. Through its use, scientists have been able to identify the four fundamental forces that make up the universe: gravitation, electromagnetism, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear.
Each force, they've concluded, corresponds with a carrier particle, or boson, that acts upon matter. But according to the standard model, matter can’t inherently have mass. Instead, it’s believed to gain mass by passing through a field. The missing field is thought to be the Higgs field, an all-knowing field through which all things pass through to gain mass, and it’s corresponding particle would be the Higgs boson, which scientists think transfers mass itself. Assuming that it exists by this logic, the Higgs field would have to occupy the entire universe, and the Higgs boson would be an explanation in itself as to why matter has mass.
But the results are not official yet, and it’s quite possible that scientists have theorized too sublime an explanation for matter — the substance of which all observable physical objects consist. Another test to determine the spin of the particle will confirm whether the particle is in fact a Higgs boson, or another subatomic particle unassociated with mass called a graviton. It has to be without an internal spin to be identified as a Higgs boson. If this is the case, it’s scientific significant might be as stupefying as it is impenetrable.