Jeff Forshaw, professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester, writes: There is utter joy in the world of particle physics – Cern’s announcement that a new particle has been discovered will have long-lasting consequences for our understanding of how the universe works and it paves the way for a swathe of exciting new results over the coming years.
All the evidence points to this new particle being the long-sought Higgs boson. Its discovery is testament not only to the brilliance of the experimental physicists and engineers from around the world who have built the Large Hadron Collider but also to the theoretical physicists who dreamed of its existence almost 50 years ago.
Fundamental science like this is thrilling, not least because of the way that years of hard work, experimentation and mathematical analysis have led us to a worldview of astonishing simplicity and beauty.
We have learned that the universe is made up of particles and that those particles dance around in a crazy quantum way. But the rules of the game are simple – they can be codified (almost) on the back of an envelope and they express the fact that, at its most elemental level, the universe is governed by symmetry. Symmetry and simplicity go hand in hand – half a snowflake is enough information to anticipate what the other half looks like – and so it is with those dancing particles. The discovery that nature is beautifully symmetric means we have very little choice in how the elementary particles do their dance – the rules simply “come for free”. Why the universe should be built in such an elegant fashion is not understood yet, but it leaves us with a sense of awe and wonder that we should be privileged to live in such a place. [Continue reading…]