What is the God Particle?

Scientists who recently switched on the multi-billion dollar Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are looking for what has been called “the God Particle.”  But what is the God Particle, and how did it earned its exalted name?

Right now scientists (let alone the rest of us) don’t understand how the Big Bang can possibly have happened or, for that matter, how the universe continues to hold itself together, although it clearly does.  With Newton, scientists originally thought the explanation was gravity, but it turns out that gravity isn’t nearly strong enough to be holding the whole universe together on its own.  There must be something else.  What could that something else be?

The theory is that there is a huge field in the universe of something resembling sticky syrup that slows some particles down.  Being slowed down is what “mass” really is.  The professor who first proposed that this field exists is Peter Higgs (he’s retired now but still living in Edinburgh, Scotland).  That’s why the field is called “the Higgs Field.”  The particle that he proposes gets slowed down by the sticky syrup – err, by the Higgs Field – is called “the Higgs Boson,”  If I understand correctly, the Higgs Boson controls other particles, slowing them down and giving them mass.  And mass is what makes it possible for us to experience them.  Mass, for that matter, is what we and everything we touch and feel and smell and see around us has.  It feels like everything has mass, but that’s only because we cannot experience anything that doesn’t have mass, so things without mass feel like they don’t exist.

The Higgs Boson was nick-named the “God Particle,” because if scientists can find it, they can explain why the universe has mass instead of racing around in wild unconnected bits and explain how the universe – not to mention a leisurely cup of morning coffee – can possibly exist as it does. 

So, depending on your theological stance, discovering the God Particle whirling around for a split second or two in the LHC could explain how God created the universe with a Big Bang.

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About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
This entry was posted in a scientific theory examined, beyond earth, how do we know that?, science and religion and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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