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So what exactly is this Higgs boson thing anyway? (+video)

Why do some call it the 'God particle'? And what, exactly, does it do?

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But what does the Higgs particle actually do? How does it, and the Higgs field associated with it, give things mass?

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In physics, when particles interact with fields, the interaction must be mediated by a particle. Interactions with the electromagnetic (EM) field, for example, are mediated by photons, or particles of light. When a negatively charged electron is pulled by the EM field toward a positively charged proton, the electron experiences the EM field by absorbing and emitting a constant stream of "virtual photons" — photons that momentarily pop in and out of existence just for the purpose of mediating the particle-field interaction. Furthermore, when the EM field is "excited," meaning its energy is flared up in a certain spot, that flare-up is, itself, a photon — a real one in that case.

Along the same lines, the Higgs particle mediates interactions with the Higgs field, and is itself an excitation of the Higgs field. Particles are thought to trudge through the Higgs field (thereby acquiring mass) by exchanging virtual Higgs particles with it. And, the thinking goes, a real Higgs particle surfaces when the field becomes excited, flaring up with energy in a certain spot. Detecting such a flare-up (i.e. the particle) is how physicists can be sure the field itself exists. At the LHC, they managed to bash atoms together hard enough to generate, for a fleeting instant, a 125 giga-electron-volt excitation of what was likely the Higgs field. The flare-up had all the trappings of a Higgs boson.

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Copyright 2012 Lifes Little Mysteries, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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