By Chet Yarbrough
The Particle at the End of the Universe
By Sean Carroll
Narrated by Jonathan Hogan
Sean Carroll is a theoretical cosmologist and senior research associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. “The Particle at the End of the Universe”, published in 2012 is focused on the story of Higgs-boson, the widely and incorrectly termed “god particle”. Higgs-bosun is discovered at CERN with the Large Hadron Collider’ experiments done between 2011 and 2013.
The LHC enables scientists to experiment with particle physics at the most minute level in the world; at least, presently possible. The LHC offers a mechanism for proving physics’ theories with experimentation formerly un-available to science. The wonder of the machine is its ability to identify the remains of particles never seen before. It offers the opportunity to see skeletal remains of the elemental particles of life. One presumes many physics theories will be experimentally proven true or false by the LHC. More consequentially, the identification of a Higgs-boson like particle opens a whole new area of science research and theory.
Carroll notes that the LHC is the largest machine in the world with a 17 mile circular tunnel built underground, below several Swiss towns. It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The LHC is a super cooled vacuum in a tunnel–designed to accelerate protons at near the speed of light for collisions that will reveal the remains of sub-atomic particles. The acceleration is achieved by using giant magnets that accelerate protons trapped in the tunnel. The LHC is in pursuit of the minutest elemental particles of the universe. They are presumably undiscovered because the total energy of known particles does not match the calculated energy of a specific field.
Carroll’s explanations of physics and the momentous importance of Higgs-boson are clear and understandable. Early on, one finds Carroll explaining that particle physics is a misleading category of scientific research. Carroll notes that Higgs-boson is not a particle. It is a field. Further, Carroll notes–all that humankind perceives in the world is made of fields, not particles.
With the advent of experimentally proven quantum mechanics, particle physics is transformed into field physics because of uncertainty. Every particle known to science is on the move. In order for one to view a particle—a proton, neutron, electron, etc., it must be frozen in time, which is not its natural state. Every particle exists within a field, a field in which particles are always in motion; always in one place or another.
Among many insights offered by Carroll, is the fundamental categorization of elemental particles. All particles are broken into two categories. One category is Fermion. The second is Boson. Fermions are elemental particles that are composed of matter.
A useful analogy reported by Carroll explains how a Higgs-boson field creates mass. Imagine two people walking through a room filled with equally dispersed people. The people-filled’ room is the Higgs-boson field. The two people walking through the room are added massless elemental particles. However, one of the two people is famous. The crowd congregates around the famous person to create a mass of people while the less famous person passes through the room (the field) unnoticed.
Carroll explains the experimental proofs of quantum mechanics are the reason Higgs-boson, or something like it, must exist. That is why its discovery was so important. Higgs-boson is the field in which known particles of the universe gain mass. Higgs-bosun is the famous person that walks into the people-filled’ room. Without Higgs-boson or something that works like Higgs-boson, life (matter and energy) would not exist.
Carroll offers other insights—about symmetry, super-symmetry, and breaking symmetry. He touches on dark matter and string theory. All subjects are interestingly presented.
In general, Carroll crystallizes the importance of theoretical and experimental science.
When listeners finish “The Particle at the End of the Universe, they will understand why Higgs-boson is a magnificent discovery and the LHC is worth its nine-billion-dollar expenditure.