The news Wednesday that signs of an elusive subatomic particle had been detected left some physicists crying with joy. The discovery confirms their understanding of why other elementary particles have mass.
But it also left the public seeking a layman's explanation of scientists' efforts to validate a theory that says particles gain mass by traveling through an energy field. That field is known as the Higgs field, and the particle associated with the field is dubbed a Higgs boson.
Because the Higgs boson exists for a mere fraction of a second, its verification has been elusive.
John Gunion, a physics professor at UC Davis, provided The Bee with this layman's comparison:
Imagine that the universe is filled with water which is the Higgs field and that elementary particles are swimmers. The Higgs bosons are like little bubbles in the water.
An Olympic swimmer with a sleek wetsuit has little resistance going through it, and so gains little mass and attracts few bubbles.
A fatter swimmer wearing clothes and shoes has a lot of interactions with the water, so gains higher mass and attracts a lot of bubbles.
Detecting a fleeting bubble would verify that there is water around the swimmers.
So last week's announcement was like saying that at last scientists have detected a bubble.
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