Is the Higgs Field constant?

15 July 2012

Question

Dear Naked Scientist,

I only last week stumbled upon your brilliant program. While I usually have basic answers to most questions, every episode so far has expanded my knowledge bit interesting details. With the Higgs-Boson however it's different. Is the Higgs-Field a uniform field? As in are there loci where the field is distorted and mass anomalies might appear? It seems as matter is not uniformly distributed throughout the universe, the distribution of Higgs-Bosons should be clustered as well, which would point towards a non-uniform field?

Regards from Germany
Xaver Kober

Answer

Dominic - So if we step back for a moment to what the Higgs actually is. I find this rather interesting because the problem which has been facing particle physicists for the last 20 or 30 years is looking at the zoo of these strange particles we have in the universe - the quarks that make up protons and neutrons; the electrons, the photons, the neutrinos, etc. And wondering whether these are just a random set of particles we have in the universe or whether there's some pattern to their properties. And one problem has been explaining why some of these particles, like quarks, have mass and others, like photons and neutrinos, don't have mass.

What Peter Higgs did in the 1960s was to show that although these particles don't form any pattern, just with the ones that we have seen, if we have one more particle - which is the Higgs Boson - then you got a very nice pattern which could explain why some of these particles have mass and others don't. It's all to do with whether they interact with the Higgs Boson which creates this Higgs field and mass is given to a particle by its interaction with that Higgs field. Now in terms of the properties of that Higgs field, I think we're going to learn more about that from the LHC in the next few years as they study this particle they seem now to have discovered. I think the general thinking is that the Higgs field is constant throughout the whole universe, it would be created by Higgs Bosons popping out of the vacuum. But I'm sure we will learn more about it in the next few years.

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