The New Yorker: Is the Higgs Not So Big?

July 7th, 2012
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect:  Yesterday we had an extensive review of the Higgs boson einstein-1921-age-42detection announced by the team at the CERN LHC (Large Hadron Collider) near Geneva.  One item that review missed was an important discussion written by Elizabeth Kolbert at The New Yorker.   Kolbert says that the “discovery” and the associated announcement are actually very disappointing in that there was really nothing at all unexpected or surprising about it.  It was a sort of “’we told you we were right, and now we can say that we have been right.”  How boring.

Picture: Albert Einstein in 1921, age 42.

Follow up:

How Important is the Higgs Boson?

It turns out that the Standard Model, the validation of which depends on the Higgs boson being real, is not quite the template for the Unified Field Theory.  The search for this theory consumed the life of Albert Einstein and he was no closer to that achievement when he died than he was when he formulated E = mC2 more than 50 years earlier.

Kobert wrote this:

Indisputably, the discovery of the Higgs is an extraordinary accomplishment, a testament to the strength of modern physics both as a theoretical and as a practical enterprise. But here’s also where the note of disappointment creeps in.

The Standard Model has several holes in it, which have only become more troubling the more that’s been learned. To account for these gaps, all sorts of “new physics” have been proposed, complete with new dimensions, new particles (or “sparticles”), and mini black holes. Many, perhaps most, high-energy physicists were hoping that the Large Hadron Collider would provide evidence in support of one (or more) of these new theories. If the Higgs turns out to be just what it looks like—the particle predicted by the Standard Model—then it will leave unresolved all of the questions that trouble the model. In an interview with the BBC, Stephen Hawking described the discovery of the Higgs as Nobel Prize-worthy, but also, “a pity in a way, because the great advances in physics have come from experiments that gave results we didn’t expect.” Adam Mann described the problem this way recently on “The Higgs boson is starting to look just a little too ordinary.”

In an e-mail to the Times, Maria Spiropulu, a professor at the California Institute of Technology who works with the C.M.S. team, said that she was still hoping to be surprised by the Higgs: “I personally do not want it to be standard model anything,” she wrote. “I don’t want it to be simple or symmetric or as predicted. I want us all to have been dealt a complex hand that will send me (and all of us) in a (good) loop for a long time.”

So, if the Higgs boson really is the Higgs boson, it solidifies the standing of the Standard Model.  But that may be a disservice to the advancement of science because the Standard Model still has significant shortcomings compared to what is the holy grail of physics:  The Unified Field Theory” which is more popularly named the “Theory of Everything.”

The Standard Model is a mathematical representation of reality which has never been solved in a closed form, merely extended to further and further numerical estimations.  Perhaps it would have been a bigger breakthrough for modern physics to have characterized the observations announced this week as discovery of something that had mass endowing properties (like the Higgs boson) but had properties inconsistent with the Higgs formulation.  Then the particle physics world would have been put in the position wished for by Prof. Maria Spiropulu:  starting over.

How Big is the Higgs Boson?

If “big” means “heavy” then just how large is one Higgs Boson?  It is being reported that it has a mass of 125.3 or 126 billion electron volts.

Huh?  Electron volt is a measure of energy, so tell me again how heavy is it?

Time for Einstein to re-enter the discussion because his formulation of General Relativity established the equivalence of mass and energy.  Energy is related to mass by E = mC2 (There you go again!) or energy is proportional to mass and the proportionality constant is the speed of light squared.

So some quick arithmetic can produce the relationship that 1 ev is the energy equivalent of 2.10 x 10-11 g.  So when it comes to mass, the Higgs boson doesn’t sound so big either.  That number is 0.00000000002 gram or approximately 0.00000000000067 ounce (Troy).  If you had that much gold it would be worth about $0.00000000042. Or putting it differently, it would take about 3.8 trillion Higgs bosons to equal the mass of one ounce of gold.

An aside: Alex Knapp has estimated (Forbes) that the cost of finding this first Higgs boson is about $13.25 billion.  That number makes the new particle worth about 8.3 million ounces of gold.  Pretty expensive: one subatomic particle worth millions of ounces of gold.

Finally, to return to how big is the Higgs boson:  that mass of 2.1 x 10-11 g is 12 trillion times the mass of a proton (hydrogen atom nucleus) and 530 quadrillion (5.3 x 1017) times the mass of an electron.  So, on the scale of things that we are all used to in our chemistry and basic physics classes, the Higgs boson is the mother of all big particles.  On a mass scale it dwarfs the mass of a gold atom by 61 billion times.

Thus the Higgs boson is not only big in importance, it is also big in mass.  However, the world can only hope that it will cost a lot less than $13.25 billion to get the second Higgs boson.  After all, we can only afford $67 million per amu (atomic mass unit) every once in a while.

John Lounsbury


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1 comment

  1. Admin (Member) Email says :

    Comment submitted by Derryl Hermanutz via e-mail:

    I have an alternate theory of mass, part of a alternate "grand unified
    theory of everything". Mass is not a "property" of matter. It is a
    relationship between magnetic forces. The fundamental substance is
    electric charge which comes in pairs of + and -, known as positrons
    and electrons. These opposite charges, male and female, when
    separated by a distance, exert polarized (i.e. + or -) attractive
    magnetic force on each other (when the charges are not separated by a
    distance and "have" each other they exert non-polarized magnetic
    force, and I think this is "gravity"). Because electric charge and
    the force it exerts "is" what we call "matter", all matter exerts
    magnetic force on all other matter. Magnetic forces are
    “accelerative”. They cause things to change their current motion and

    Because the matter in the universe is separated by distances, a
    universal magnetic field is exerted (though for practical purposes,
    because magnetic force diffuses at the square of distance, the
    intergalactic forces are much weaker than the intragalactic forces, so
    the inertial frame of reference for gravity is galaxies, not the
    universe as a whole: using galaxies as the inertial frame explains why
    peripheral stars appear to be moving 6 times faster than the mass of
    the galaxy can gravitationally hold against the centrifugal force
    “outward” that the stars’ motion is exerting, because relativity shows
    that space becomes more diffuse and time becomes more dense the
    further away from the source of the accelerative force, the “center of
    gravity”, which is the galactic core, so periphery stars are moving in
    dense time through diffuse space but we are measuring their velocity
    as if they are moving in "Earth standard" spacetime; there is no need
    to invent "dark matter" to explain the apparent too-fast orbital
    velocities of these stars).

    The reason mass is measured in electron volts is because electric
    charge is the "substance" that both exerts and is acted upon by
    magnetic force. "One electron volt" is not actually the 'mass' of a
    single electron; it is the mass of many electrons. Neutrinos are
    probably single bosons, +/- pairs, single "photons" comprising one
    electron and one positron (in order to interact with other matter,
    EVERY vector of motion must be conserved, which usually requires that
    a “multi”-particle split off into pieces after it hits a target and
    moves it, to conserve each vector of the previous motion of both
    parties to the interaction: single photons like neutrinos cannot split
    into parts, because they are not travelling in a group as a “multi”
    particle, so neutrinos can only interact in a square on hit where
    there is only a single motion vector to conserve, which is why
    neutrino interaction is rare). The only difference between electrons
    and positrons is the direction of their spin (they spin "toward" each
    other; whereas same polarity charges spin "away" from each other). So
    "mass" is simply the measure of how much magnetic force any thing,
    viewed as its own inertial frame of reference, exerts and has the
    capacity to resist. A one million electron volt mass will accelerate
    a one electron volt mass toward itself at much higher velocity and
    much greater change of position than the one volt mass will move the
    big mass.

    But the big mass is nevertheless accelerated toward the small mass, in
    proportion to its quantity of magnetically charged substance (electric
    charge), even if the small mass does not appear to move the big mass
    very much. Each acts on all and each is acted upon by all. This
    creates a state of dynamic "Universal Magnetic Balance", which we call
    "inertia", and this is the "molasses" that makes it necessary to exert
    a force on anything in order to change its current state of motion.
    The entire universe is colluding in keeping that thing moving just as
    it is, and the entire universe has to adjust itself to any change in
    velocity or position of any part. The quantity of electric charge in
    any thing is its "mass", measured by the amount of force required to
    change its motion within the inertial frame of the universe.

    The much hyped “Higgs boson” is nothing other than the quantity of
    magnetic force that is contributing to whichever local field you are
    measuring the “mass” of. That is, the Higgs is “always there” as the
    localized component of the universal magnetic field. It is this UMF
    and its inertia (resistance to change of motion and position), not
    some mysterious new particle, that causes what we call “mass”.

    Derryl Hermanutz



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