It all started with this crazy dream I had the other night.
I’m at the pearly gates. It’s all digital now. I key in my Gmail username and password. The gates don’t budge. An old man in white, with a flowing beard, a trident and a glowing frisbie floating behind his head, materialises through the mist. He looks at me in disgust.
“It’s you. I thought the red guy with the forked tongue wanted you south side. Never mind. Come in.” The gates creak open and soon as they slam shut, the old man turns furtive. Looks around, fraught with tension. “Have they found the Higgs-Boson yet?”
“They’re about to, Sire. Sire, what’ll happen ta all of this if they do?” I look around, making a sweeping gesture. “And the virgins. I was kinda hoping I could have one or two.”
He was looking downcast. Suddenly He brightens. “Ah, the virgins. Let’s go get ’em before it’s all over, lad. Race ya to the harem”. He zips over down the corridor at light speed. “I’ll take Eenie and Meenie. You can have Mynie …………and Moe too, if you like……I mean, if you’re…you know..that way.”
After we’re done with Eenie, Meenie and Mynie (we give Moe a pass, he has a beard), the Lord get’s curious. “What in purgatory is the Higgs-Boson?”
“Scientists are trying to find out how matter got it’s mass, Lord. Like how did the first atoms get their mass. How did everything come outa nothin’.” I hadn’t even finished speaking when I heard snoring. The Lord was sound asleep. And that’s when I woke up. It was me snoring, actually.
I decided to look up the Higgs-Boson on Wikipedia and here’s what I found. Some physicists, led by Peter Higgs, concluded that a tiny particle called the Higgs-Boson started it all. And someone started calling it the ‘God particle’.
According to the Standard Model, which is a collection of theories that sums up our current understanding of fundamental particles, tiny particles called ‘quarks’ are the building blocks of matter. Check out the picture attached. Quarks get together and form protons and neutrons. Now if they can only figure out how quarks came into being, they’ll know how the universe started. Not ‘why’ maybe, just ‘how’. But I wonder if they’ll ever get close. Everytime they think they are there, a new revelation pushes back the horizon. The latest being the discovery that 75% of the universe is ‘dark matter’. It’s like we’re being strung along.
And by the by, it’s quarks, not quirks. Those I have, in plenty. Like my obsession with baobabs. I can lend you some if you like. Quirks, silly, not baobabs. Now leave me alone, will you? I’m busy tellin’ you about folks in white coats who are tryin’ ta find a particle that’ll prove that the couple with the fig leaves didn’t exist.
On fig leaves, BTW, a stray thought. Did they have velcro those days? Or was everything naturally magnetic? Or did Adam and Eve hold the fig leaf in place with one hand, all the time? Believe me, those days if someone told you,”Gimme a hand” he probably wanted you to hold up his fig leaf in place while he worked on something. There must have been a college diploma in fig leaf holdin’. A recession-proof job profile. I mean, everyone needed a personal fig leaf manager, right? But why fig? Was it because Adam was modestly sized? I’d need a banana leaf, for cryin’ out loud. Arnold Schwarzneggar too.
Higgs calculated that the Higgs-Boson could only exist at extremely high energy levels, like the ones thought to have existed during the first few pico-seconds after the Big Bang. And that the Higgs-Bosons were the precursors of the more stable ‘quarks’. More about quarks later. Relax. I’d go get myself a beer if I were you. This might take a while.
Researchers peeking over Higgs’ shoulders struck upon the idea of creating the same conditions that must have existed in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. By making high-energy particles collide. That way, they’d be able to see if any Higgs-Bosons showed up.
A particle accelerator called the Large Hadron Collider(LHC) was built at a facility called CERN in Switzerland. It’s a gigantic hollow donut-shaped machine, 27kms in circumference, 100metres below ground. India is a prominent donor and has many scientists in the lead team of researchers. And hadrons are sub-atomic particles, like protons and neutrons, which in turn contain quarks. Remember the quarks in para-9? Are you payin’ attention? I hear snorin’ at the back there.
In the LHC, hadrons, in this case, protons, are made to accelerate to speeds close to the speed of light, using gigantic electro-magnets placed around the walls of the donut. Imagine you’re a proton and this is what you’ll see. You’re in an atom of hydrogen gas in a bottle, mindin’ your business, gettin’ chummy with the lone neutron inside the nucleus while you watch Michael Schumacher (the lone electron) buzzin’ around the race track, showin’ off and all. Michael is 2000 times smaller in mass than you, you can kick his butt anytime you like.
You and neutypoo are into your second can of Moosehead ale when some brainy schmuck in a white coat has Michael kicked off your atom and you fall out too, as a result. They then scoop you up and inject you into a huge magnetic field inside the donut shaped LHC tube where all the other kids are running, half of them clockwise and half anti-clockwise. You’re now on the run, trying ta catch up with the others and trying not to get hit by those onrushing protons going the other way. In the beginning it’s easy to avoid them as you protons are all similarly charged. But the electro-magnetic coils built into the walls around you make you go faster and faster, till you’re zooming around at .99999997828 times the speed of light. (I added some more 9s there, got carried away, like. Sorry).
As you speed up, the repelling force, between two similarly charged guys like you, breaks down. And you inevitably collide. As per Higgs, you are then supposed to break down further, into quarks and then, further on, to Higgs-Bosons. And the white coats are there, waitin’ to catch a glimpse of it as it forms, out of nothing. This is where my understanding of it becomes a bit shaky. (Inspite of my extraordinary intellect).