Where the Higgs belongs
||The Higgs doesn't quite fit in with the other particles of the Standard Model of particle physics. Image: Sandbox Studio with Ana Kova|
If you were Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and you carried a tiny green Jedi master on your back through the jungles of Dagobah for long enough, you could eventually raise your submerged X-wing out of the swamp just by using the Force.
But if you were a boson in the Standard Model of particle physics, you could skip the training — you would be the force.
Bosons are particles that carry the four fundamental forces. These forces push and pull what would otherwise have been an unwieldy soup of particles into the beautiful mosaic of stars and galaxies that permeate the visible universe.
The fundamental forces keep protons incredibly stable (the strong force holds them together), cause compasses to point north (the electromagnetic force attracts the needle), make apples fall off trees (gravity attracts the fruit to the ground), and keep the sun shining (the weak force allows nuclear fusion to occur).
In 2012, the Higgs boson became an officially recognized member of this family of fundamental bosons.
The Higgs is called a boson because of a quantum mechanical property called spin — which represents a particle's intrinsic angular momentum and characterizes how a particle plays with its Standard Model friends.
Bosons have an integer spin (0, 1, 2) which makes them the touchy-feely types. They have no need for personal space. Fermions, on the other hand, have a non-integer spin (1/2, 3/2, etc.), which makes them a bit more isolated; they prefer to keep their distance from other particles.
The Higgs has a spin of 0, making it officially a boson.
"Every boson is associated with one of the four fundamental forces," says Kyle Cranmer, an associate professor of physics at New York University. "So if we discover a new boson, it seems natural that we should find a new force."
Scientists think that a Higgs force does exist. But it's the Higgs boson's relationship to that force that makes it a bit of a black sheep. It's the reason that, when the Higgs is added to the Standard Model of particle physics, it's often pictured apart from the rest of the boson family.