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Why is there a need for the Higgs?

  1. Dec 10, 2012 #1
    I'm having hard time getting my head around this. If E=mc2, then why do we need a Higgs Boson? Can't all matter simply be pockets of greater or lesser intensity (i.e. energy with highly stable angular momentum carrying mass, less stable angular momentum as short-lived particles, and energy as radiation as massless) in an M-Brane of energy? A Higgs Field, without the Higgs?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 10, 2012 #2


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    The idea that Peter Higgs had, along with several other people about the same time, was of a FIELD, not of a particle.
    It is the Higgs field, not the particle, which dissolves a symmetry in and provides certain particles with mass.
    The Higgs particle is merely a temporary excitation of the field, one whose decay processes can be observed thus providing EVIDENCE for the existence of the field. Think of it as just a temporary blip in the field. Studying the blips let's physicists learn about the field (which is the main thing.)

    This is all still in the context of the Quantum Field Theory elaborated in the 1970s. It does not involve "string" or "M-brane" math.

    So your basic intuitive hunch, as I see it, is in the right direction. i.e. thinking about it in field terms with the often-very-short-lived field quanta, the blips predicted by QFT, arising and becoming observable in some cases comparatively rarely.

    BTW Linsurf, this is actually not a Beyond the Standard Model topic!
    Quantum Field Theory (QFT), the context in which this makes sense, is the basis of the Standard Model! You might, in fact, get a more focused informative discussion of the Higgs field and related phenomena if you posed your question in the neighboring forum called
    High Energy, Nuclear, and Particle Physics forum, just one item up on the menu.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2012
  4. Dec 10, 2012 #3
    Hi, Marcus--

    Thanks for your reply, and for making things clearer to me :)

    I'm still a bit confused however. The media reports that the Higgs Boson imparts mass to all matter. So that's wrong? It's actually the field itself?
  5. Dec 10, 2012 #4
    Oh, and then I will move the topic to QTF. I'd just like to hear the answer from someone I can understand :)
  6. Dec 10, 2012 #5


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    The media is wrong.
    It is actually the field.
    Actually it is only SOME of matter's mass which is imparted by the Higgs field.
    You can find out more about this if you post a question in the neighbor PF form which does regular mainstream high energy physics, and related.
    It is not unusual for the media to be wrong concerning technical detail, or for media language to be misleading.
  7. Dec 10, 2012 #6
    Ok, thank you, Marcus. Topic moved.
  8. Dec 18, 2012 #7
    Such stumbling is common in popularizations, sad to say.

    As to particle vs. field, *every* elementary "particle" is a quantized field. The billiard-ball stereotype doesn't come close to fitting. However, it fits better for bound states like hadrons and nuclei and atoms and molecules ... and billiard balls themselves.

    As to the Higgs particle making everything massive, it only gives mass to most of the other Standard-Model particles. The photon and gluon stay massless, however.

    There is a certain "gentleman" whom I shall not name who claims that the Higgs particle is greatly oversold as the source of mass, on the ground the nearly all the mass of familiar matter is due to QCD effects. However, the proton and neutron are bound states, not SM elementary particles. But the electron does get its mass from the Higgs particle.
  9. Dec 18, 2012 #8
    Now I'm confused. So is mass, at least in some(?) particles, given by the Higgs field or the Higgs boson?
  10. Dec 18, 2012 #9
    I guess I've always had an idea in my head that the universe follows Einstein, and that mass is the warping of space-time. So that's what I'm having a hard time with. A Higgs field I think I can visualize. But why do we need a Higgs particle?

    Please excuse my n00bness.
  11. Dec 19, 2012 #10


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    It' simple: there are elementary particles which behaves as if they have some mass; the theory used to formulate their interactions does not allow for a simple mass-term b/c it breaks gauge invariance; therefore Higgs et al. invented a field which (in a mathematical sense!) behaves as if it creates a mass term for some of the particles. When quantizing thos field the mass-generation mechanism remains pretty classically but in addition one adds massive excitations which are interoretetd as Higgs bosons.

    Regarding GR: GR does in way explain mass (or energy) in terms of spacetime curvature; it's exactly the other way round, GR explains spacetime curvature as an effect caused by energy; GR does not know further details about this energy, which fields carry this energy etc.; this is an additional input on top of GR.

    And we don't ned GR in this context, the Higgs effect can be formulated using SR.
  12. Dec 19, 2012 #11
    I apologize. I think that's a bit above my head.
  13. Dec 19, 2012 #12


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    What exactly?

    What I am saying is that GR does not explain mass or energy, but that mass or energy is used in the context of GR (my car does not explain how a motor works, but it contains a motor).

    Asking questions like "why do we need a Higgs particle?" are difficult to answer. We propose a theory which solves the problem of mass generation; we observe that the mechanism used does not only produce mass but that in addition it introduces an additional boson. The reason why we do this is b/c it works. The idea was not to invent a theory with a Higgs boson; the idea was to invent a theory solving the mass problem; the simplest approach comes with an additional particle which is a new prediction. The theory works fine, so we trust in this prediction and try to find the particle. Not more, not less.
  14. Dec 19, 2012 #13


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    This is partly attributable to our current state of ignorance. The Higgs field is complicit in the mass of every elementary particle that participates in the weak interaction. But there are several other situations that may involve particles that do not see the weak interaction, and while they are currently hypothetical, would entail a mass that did not arise from Higgs.

    The masses of supersymmetric partners, if they are shown to exist, would have to come from somewhere else. Likewise for axions. The mass of dark matter particles. And a Majorana mass for neutrinos.
  15. Dec 19, 2012 #14
    I see. Thank you, Bill. I think I understand :)
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