After CERN announced on July 4th, 2012, that a new particle had been discovered, the media were filled with headlines such as: “Physicists find elusive particles seen as key to universe”, “… the holy grail of physics”, “‘God Particle’ discovered”, “Is the Higgs boson the first step to a ‘Star Trek’ transporter?”, “Higgs boson find could make light-speed travel possible, scientists say”.
Meme that made the rounds on Facebook after CERN announced the discovery of a Higgs-like particle
Aside from the fact, that I cringe every time the term “God Particle” is mentioned, I felt it would be useful to explain to my science translator colleagues what is really going on, why I think that the term “God Particle” is an ingenious marketing ploy gone bad, and why we’ll have to wait a bit longer until Scotty can beam us up. Therefore I presented a talk on “The ‘God Particle’, Dark Matter, Black Holes, and All That” at the 2012 Annual Conference of the American Translators Association. The talk was aimed at a general audience comprised mostly of non-scientists and featured a lot of analogies and pictures as well as cute stuffed “particles”.
Long story short, the so-called Higgs mechanism (named after Peter Higgs) explains, why most particles have masses and are not zipping around the universe at the speed of light. This mechanism predicts a new particle beyond the ones we already knew. If this mechanism is really responsible for giving particles their mass, this particle, the Higgs boson has to exist. Many experiments have therefore searched for the particle since its prediction in 1964, and it was finally discovered at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) last July.
If you want to know why it is also known as the “God Particle” and why it was so hard to find, read my contribution to the ATA Conference Proceedings or browse through the slides of my talk. Enjoy!