This is Particle Zoo‘s version of the mysterious Higgs boson, the particle that the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was (partly) built to find. It’s a really big deal to particle physicists – all current theory hangs on this particle. If the LHC shows it exists, then we know current theories are right (they all predict, and need, the Higgs boson’s existence to make the maths work). But, if it can’t be found, then physicists have to delve into the crazier theories – like supersymmetry, where all particles have a ‘supersymmetric’ equivalent.
Actually, I wouldn’t mind if supersymmetry existed – because physicists being physicists, they’ve named all the supersymmetric particles as the particle they correspond to, with an s at the front. So not only do you have neutrinos, quarks and protons; now you have sneutrinos, squarks and sprotons, pronounced literally as you’d read them. And I think these names are just too awesome to be used in a theory that turns out not to work.
Anyway. You might think that a particle that “makes the maths work” isn’t really that big a deal. And in most other areas of physics, you’d be right – very few things are suggested in order to get the maths to work. The trouble is, in particle physics, things are predicted, then found – firstly because it’s way too expensive to build a particle accelerator on the off-chance you’ll see something, so you have to know what you’re looking for; and secondly, because particle physics is seriously maths-reliant. On top of this, there seems to be no way of predicting the value of constants (e.g., the masses of the W and Z bosons), so physicists have to use the values they can measure from experiments – so as long as the experiments can’t measure something (like the mass of the Higgs boson) they can’t find out what it is.
The trouble is, the Higgs boson is a really big deal for the theory. In order to make the maths add up, so that all the constants have the same value as found in experiments, the Higgs boson has to exist. Otherwise, all the theories just won’t work, and this time round physicists reckon they won’t be able to just tweak it. They’ll have to start all over again. The Higgs is the particle that “gives mass” to everything – protons, neutrons, electrons, everything supposedly gains mass by “interacting with the Higgs field”. So if it doesn’t exist, when we know mass does, it’s back to the drawing board.
Amazing, how this one little purple guy can cause so much trouble!