Technological Applications of the Higgs Boson

By Sean Carroll | March 20, 2012 10:52 am

Can you think of any?

Here’s what I mean. When we set about justifying basic research in fundamental science, we tend to offer multiple rationales. One (the easy and most obviously legitimate one) is that we’re simply curious about how the world works, and discovery is its own reward. But often we trot out another one: the claim that applied research and real technological advances very often spring from basic research with no specific technological goal. Faraday wasn’t thinking of electronic gizmos when he helped pioneer modern electromagnetism, and the inventors of quantum mechanics weren’t thinking of semiconductors and lasers. They just wanted to figure out how nature works, and the applications came later.

So what about contemporary particle physics, and the Higgs boson in particular? We’re spending a lot of money to look for it, and I’m perfectly comfortable justifying that expense by the purely intellectual reward associated with understanding the missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics. But inevitably we also mention that, even if we don’t know what it will be right now, it’s likely (or some go so far as to say “inevitable”) that someday we’ll invent some marvelous bit of technology that makes crucial use of what we learned from studying the Higgs.

So — anyone have any guesses as to what that might be? You are permitted to think broadly here. We’re obviously not expecting something within a few years after we find the little bugger. So imagine that we have discovered it, and if you like you can imagine we have the technology to create Higgses with a lot less overhead than a kilometers-across particle accelerator. We have a heavy and short-lived elementary particle that couples preferentially to other heavy particles, and represents ripples in the background field that breaks electroweak symmetry and therefore provides mass. What could we possibly do with it?

Specificity and plausibility will be rewarded. (Although there are no actual rewards offered.) So “cure cancer” gets low marks, while “improve the rate of this specific important chemical reaction” would be a lot better.

Let your science-fiction-trained imaginations rome, and chime in.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Higgs, Science, Technology, Top Posts
  • Richard

    If we could master the Higgs Field, we could shield potential space craft in a ‘Higgs Cloak’ by making it mass-less. Approaching speed of light.

  • MPS17

    I don’t know but I think it’s important that we trot around a third reason for doing basic science, which is to train future professionals to do science or other pursuits that involve critical thinking, analytic model building, etc.

    This is not a trivial matter. The “leaky academic pipeline” is major subsidy to research, development, and innovation in diverse fields. Firms that would benefit from this talent do not need to engage the risky enterprise of developing it on their own. We can imagine an alternate universe, where there is no federally-funded basic science. Then firms that would seek to benefit from the human capital the federally-funded science produces would need to develop it on their own, and correspondingly pass the cost on to consumers. It is not apparent that this saves any money. Indeed, given the unpredictable nature of the direction of science, paying to develop specific science skills internalizes a cost with high positive externalities — this is usually not a good thing for a profit-oriented private firm to do in a competitive marketplace.

    One might argue, if the point is just to train a certain class of professional to find her way into other endeavors where her skills have value, does it have to be so expensive? Well, yes, it seems so. It seems the only way we know of training people to actually be good at critical thinking and model building and such is to put them on projects that expand the frontiers of human understanding, and these projects are expensive.

  • http://www.usatoday.com Dan Vergano

    Probably being morbid here, but I wonder if a ‘Higgs beam’ could be used to improve cyclotron efficiencies, or briefly increase nuclei loiter time (add inertia) to increase the yield of some nuclear reactions.

  • DrZ

    The Higgs Bomb.

    A relatively lightweight bomb or projectile that rapidly gains mass close to it’s target, thus increasing its damage. Could cause implosion of structures through mass increase.

  • http://trenchesofdiscovery.blogspot.com Shaun

    Both these examples are crazy speculative, even given how much freedom you’ve given us, so there may be obvious problems I’m missing, but…

    In the lucky world where Higgs-inflation is true and the Higgs boson is also the inflaton we have a limitless source of energy.

    You told us we could pretend this is in the future, so I will assume we’ve solved all sorts of other problems, but if you could create an inflating universe in a box and siphon off all the energy from reheating to spin some sort of dynamo in our universe then you get electricity for free.

    …………………..

    Or, what about a Higgs tunnel? When electroweak symmetry is no longer broken, all the fundamental particles will become massless again. Therefore, there’s much less inertia to worry about. So you could get a pipe of some form where electroweak symmetry is not broken, pass particles down the pipe and presumably it will be easier to accelerate them down it. If they’re truly massless acceleration isn’t even an issue!

    All the other sources of mass would of course still be a problem, so this might just work for electrons and muons, but hey, those customers need to get their leptons somehow.

  • Nonnormalizable

    I hope somebody can provide a counterargument to why I think it’s impossible that knowledge of the Higgs or any other new physics at the TeV scale will have practical application.

    Since we’re by construction talking about physics that could be discovered for the first time at the LHC, we’re looking for practical application of something that differs from the SM only on the TeV scale. Whatever we discover–Higgs, super awesome BSM, whatever–must reduce to what we already know at everyday energies and temperatures. (And even reduce to what we already know even at, say, inside-of-the-sun conditions, since that’s already well understood.) The only time anything at the TeV scale matters is when the nations of the world spend billions of dollars and decades of work to make a miles-long high energy collider. That’s not going to happen on a regular basis, to say the least. Therefore, since nothing is at the TeV scale, nothing we discover at the TeV scale could ever be of practical use.

    As a working physics grad student, that’s the reason I feel terribly misleading whenever I talk about possible practical uses of LHC discoveries. The important difference between the physics discoveries of the past X hundred years, and the HEP discoveries of the past 50 years, is that E&M, GR, and non-relativistic QM all had measurable effects at scales accessible to humans. Whatever is beyond the SM will not, just because we’ve at the point in history when we have good understanding at scales ranging from 10^-15 * everyday life to 10^+19 * everyday life.

    Of course, their can still be practical application from other aspects of HEP (CERN Courier had a thing about vacuum technology that was developed for beampipes now being used in solar energy cells, e.g.), just not the new physics itself.

  • terryp

    i’m pretty sure that knowing the actual mass of the higgs will enhance the flavour of beer and the colours of rainbows.

  • Jonathan

    counteract the force of gravity on earth.

  • Tony

    @nonnormalizable:

    The amount of energy accessible to the average person today is far greater than the energy accessible to the average person a century ago. Who is to say what will be ‘every day’ in 100 years time? I am not going to say that the energies of the LHC will be accessible to individuals, but they may be accessible to nations and industry. That impact should not be underestimated.

    As to what the future will hold with an understanding of the Higgs…who knows? Having a full understanding of what gives objects mass and, possibly, under what circumstance that property may be manipulated (maybe under no circumstance, but this is speculation) would be huge. Just look at your screen and see what a good understanding of electromagnetic fields has done. I am certain that if you looked, you could find examples of scholars who believed electromagnetism would never be of any practical use before it was understood.

  • Peter Morgan

    It’s possible to do engineering without understanding that much. Accelerator physics has real applications now, at whatever level we currently understand the Higgs field. If the Higgs field is as much the source of mass as current theory says, we use the Higgs field every time we move or think. Engineering controlled systems only requires descriptions of experimental results, it doesn’t require that those descriptions have the conceptual efficiencies that allow intuitive jumps to otherwise unimaginable ideas.

    The Higgs field idea is part of an overall structure that seems too complex to allow intuitive jumps that go far, so it seems more likely that a radically different synthesis will be necessary before the engineering takes off. The ideas above seem more science fiction than remotely close to achievable engineering because, I think, the Higgs idea just isn’t that productive, however I’m not quite so downbeat about applications of TeV scale physics being possible in the future as “Nonrenormalizable”, because whatever synthesis replaces the existing Standard Model of Particle Physics will almost certainly improve our chances of using fusion as an effective energy source.

  • Josh

    Cure cancer.

  • beanfeast

    Interesting that you should mention Faraday, since it is the cage named after him that I take as inspiration. Just as we now know how the Faraday cage shields objects within it from the effects of electric fields which surround it, wouldn’t it be interesting if the discovery of the Higgs boson lead to such a comprehensive understanding of the Higgs field that it became possible to design materials which would manipulate it or shield objects from its effect.

    It might even explain the physics behind what was going on in some of those strange areas in Stalker/Roadside Picnic.

  • http://danieldragonfilms.com Daniel Lowe (@Daniel_Dragon)

    I thought the entire purpose of finding the Higgs Boson was finding a way to “cheat” gravity.

    Therefore, as a consumer, I am expecting the following:

    1) flying cars
    2) anti-gravity boots
    3) faster-than-light cruises to Saturn

    Thank you for your compliance.

  • Brian G

    I’m not sure if the Higgs boson will have direct technological use, but the search for it certainly does. The data collection and analysis that CERN does on the data from the LHC is ridiculous. Their entire IT infrastructure and analysis software is a very interesting model for all kinds of computing.

  • Aaron

    Warp drive.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    As Faraday said to Disraeli (or Gladstone, depending on the source) when asked what good his experiment (involving electromagnetic induction) was: I don’t know, but in the future you may tax it.

  • Nonnormalizable

    @Peter Morgan: Why do you think “whatever synthesis replaces the existing Standard Model of Particle Physics will almost certainly improve our chances of using fusion as an effective energy source”? The Standard Model explains fusion fully. I think whatever is beyond it will reduce to the SM at the (comparatively “low”) energy and temperature scales relevant to fusion, necessarily.

    @Tony: We have, what, 100 to 10,000 times the energy available to us on a daily basis as someone did in 0 AD? Even if it went up 10^4 times yet again, new physics at LHC energy scales still isn’t relevant, and I don’t see any reason that it would increase that much again in the next 2000 years, nor do I see offhand where it could come from. Sure, it’s not *impossible,* but just waving vaguely and saying it could happen for no particular reason doesn’t seem persuasive. Regarding mass: it turns out that most of the mass of everyday matter comes from (well understood) QCD effects within the proton and neutron. The Higgs gives the intrinsic mass to the particles of the SM, but contra the very common misconception that’s not the source of the mass of atoms and larger objects. (Confusing, I know. Somewhere online there’ probably a good explanation.) I’m inclined to think that one would NOT be able to”find examples of scholars who believed electromagnetism would never be of any practical use,” but I lack the interest to actually find out. :)

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/114865618166480775623 Russ Abbott

    Is there a way to explain to non-physicists how the Higgs creates mass? Saying that it “represents ripples in the background field that breaks electroweak symmetry and therefore provides mass” doesn’t produce much of a picture in my mind.

  • Michael

    I think that not finding the Higgs boson would have almost immediate practical applications as we would have to reformulate the currently accepted theory of the standard model.

  • Paul

    Well, the Higgs is part of the Standard Model, so anything that comes from new physics in or beyond the SM would be informed by understanding the Higgs.

    Is there anything like that? Maybe we can figure out a way to violate conservation of baryon number. We know this probably happened in the early universe, since there’s an excess of matter over antimatter. Total conversion bombs, anyone?

    Since the Higgs itself only shows up after laboriously collecting months of data from a machine tens of kilometers in size, I doubt it by itself could be used for much. Tabletop science is more likely to turn into tabletop applications.

  • Flapinux

    Artificial gravity

  • Eric

    There really aren’t any technological applications of the Higgs boson, nor are there likely to ever be. However, the development of the technologies necessary to produce it, find it and study it can be considered spin-offs.

  • GlenM

    I hope it has some use in the near future. The money spent at CERN and similar research centres could have been used to fund or underwrite real world research and production of renewable energy sources and/or water purification or something the world needs now. If we don’t solve our current problems it may not matter what we may be able to do in 50 or 100 years.

  • chasedj

    I’m unsure if it would be practical relative to using em waves but a “graviphone” could be possible for communication purposes. By rapidly increasing and decreasing the mass of a collection of particles you could generate waves through space time which could be picked up by a receiver. You could potentially pack more information this way as I can assume the wavelength of a wave of space itself could be much smaller than that of even the most energetic em wave.
    Another interesting application could be using these waves to probe tiny structures just as em waves are today. Theoretically the wavelength could reach a lower limit of the planck length allowing unprecedented study at the universes smallest scales.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    If I had a lab sized Higgs beam, I would use it to slow down fast chemical reactions (if that is what happens) and study them at leisure. And a Higgs stasis field for scifi space travel, for stasis of traumatized body parts during extensive surgery or waiting for new grown clone body parts (because if you have Higgs beams you have come that far with replacement parts too =D), or at least for the next generation of expensive home freezers, would be neat too!

    If we can Higgs the shit out of molecules, the non-leaking carbon dioxide AGW store could be fun. Enter “Project Black Hole”. (There is a pun with “annual production” and “US” in there, I’m sure.) Just don’t flip the power switch.

    @ Nonnormalizable:

    I’m not sure why you are fixated on energy, while the article was not, but FWIW we have access to much more energy on a daily basis in the form of cosmic radiation. So if you can’t drive your Higgs doohickey down at Earth surface, take it to ISS to drive it, whatever it does. That is how people started using radiation IIRC, utilizing natural sources because they couldn’t produce the radiation synthetically.

  • Brian W

    Forget the Higgs, what technological applications are there involving any matter particles besides electrons, protons, neutrons, and maybe neutrinos or muons (if you count them being the byproduct of nuclear reactions as an application)?

    In principle, if neutrinos could be produced in large numbers and/or detected easily they would provide a way of sending signals through large solid objects like the earth, or maybe probing the inside of such objects.

    Other particles (including the Higgs) seem too short lived to be of much use, although it’s hard to predict the future. And when discussing “Higgs shields” with applications for anti-gravity, it’s worth pointing out that the Higgs mechanism accounts for less than 1% of the mass of ordinary objects.

  • john

    “Or, what about a Higgs tunnel? When electroweak symmetry is no longer broken, all the fundamental particles will become massless again. Therefore, there’s much less inertia to worry about. So you could get a pipe of some form where electroweak symmetry is not broken, pass particles down the pipe and presumably it will be easier to accelerate them down it. If they’re truly massless acceleration isn’t even an issue!”
    ——-

    I think you might have a problem with making particles massless as a means of transporting any macroscopic object, because they would all fairly quickly get up to light speed and blow apart into elementary particles, yeah?

  • Nonnormalizable

    @Torbjörn Larsson: Energy scales are important (and also equivalent to both length and time scales, in the common physicists’ shorthand), because regardless of whatever is going on with the Higgs that we discover when colliding protons at 7 TeV, it will all reduce to the Standard Model at all lower energies–e.g., everything having anything to do with everyday life. We know, because the SM is fantastically successful and precise in all situations not pp collisions at 7TeV, inside a black hole, or the first 10^-lots second of the big bang.

    The point about cosmic rays is a good one, I suppose a loophole in my argument. But I think it takes the odds of practical application from impossible to wildly implausible.

  • Adam Ross

    Two that I’d like to see (and part of the trio required for space exploration, IMO):

    Artificial Gravity and Propulsion (the third axis being clean electrical power generation).

    A field or plane in which you can control mass, could allow you to create a localized source of gravity in a weightless environment (increase the effective mass of deck plates, without actually adding weight, to attract lighter bodies (in this case actual bodies, of astronauts)).

    Propulsion: We have ion thrusters, which require a tank of some form of mass to eject from a magnetic field to provide thrust (newton’s 3rd). So if you could generate mass from nothing, just using power, then you have a limitless thrust potential (so long as power holds out).

  • Standard Model

    I would agree with nonnormalizable. The Higgs by itself is not important, the Standard Model is. That we can reduce everything below a certain energy scale to some version of the Standard Model is absolutely critical for future technology advancement.

    I would also argue that understanding physics in the strong regime will eventually be driven by the needs of quantum computing. Being able to understate state evolution in noisy environments will remain of fundamental mathematical and computational interest into the distant future. Understanding stability of states will be of increasing interest.

  • Michael Pierce

    Ok, here’s one for you. It’s not exactly what the everyday uses of the Higgs might be, but it is another aspect of the LHC that has application outside the realm of high energy physics.

    There are a variety of “beam physics” applications that are useful in many other fields. And I’m going to pick x-rays made by synchrotron facilities (and now FELs too) since I happen to use them(!).

    While a synchrotron may operate at a paltry 1-10GeV, they grew out of particle physics facilities (think of CHESS or SLAC) and there continues to be overlap in terms of some of the instrumentation. And without synchrotrons and their copious x-rays many of us in physics, chemistry, biology, geology, materials, … (you get the idea), would be out of luck. There are many interesting systems (especially “in-situ” real-world type systems) where electron based probes are far too interacting and neutron probes are still far too non-interacting. X-rays just happen to fit in the middle ground of having the right energies (wavelengths) to study matter at the nano-scale, while also being able to penetrate the “ugly” conditions that occur in the real world (or if not “real”, then at least much, much closer than a UHV chamber).

    X-rays are a huge boon for science, and facilities that make them rely heavily on what was learned from particle physics experiments. So Higgs or no, I’m happy to have not only the history, but the continued influence and input from other beam physics oriented folks (particle physics experimentalists) for the dedicated people that make the x-rays that are so important to me.

    cheers,

    Michael

  • Walter

    A diet pill?

  • Joel Rice

    It is pointless to justify the money spent on LHC by speculating about utility. Being Wrong is a problem, and since the Higgs mechanism is pervasive in the Standard Model, it is worth resolving whether it is for real, or an illusion, otherwise theory just goes around in circles, or proliferates and spawns more untestable stuff. Besides, it is not just about Higgs as we are bound to find out all sorts of other interesting things. In fact, considering the amount of money wasted on a day to day basis, we should really bring back the Superconducting Super Collider, now that the technology has improved substantially.

  • Ian Liberman

    I am going to make this short and sweet . Most experts point out that a value of 125 GeV for the mass would be a plus in the direction of supersymmetry, a theory that indicates that each particle would have a heavier partner known as a superparticle or superpartner. Supersymmetry has aligned itself with what some scientists have called a superwormhole . One of them being James Anglin. So I will go for a time machine as described in Scientific American`s article in 2002 called A Wormhole Time Machine in Three Not So Easy Steps.

  • Gammaburst

    Best Idea: Patent it- don’t build anything and sue everyone for patent infringement who uses gravity.

  • blair

    TRACTOR BEAMS!!!1

  • http://soundingthedepths.blogspot.com/ Victor

    If the Higgs confers mass, then tweaking someone’s personal Higgs’s might be a great weight-loss tool.

  • DaveC

    Is there any realized technological application of any part of the standard model beyond what was known 60 years ago? In fact, any realized application of QED? Lasers and transistors don’t need it. Maybe modeling of nuclear reactors/bombs is improved?

  • max

    Maybe if you got a coherent Higgs beam you could destabilize heavy nuclei (make masses of the quarks oscillate, wreaking all sorts of havoc), thereby accelerating nuclear decay. You could get rid of nuclear waste faster, or create nuclear energy more energy easily. No way you’d ever be able to make such a beam though.

  • GM

    The very notion that spending money on the LHC has to be justified is a problem that has to be solved, not trying to find a justification for why we should spend money on it.

    If we didn’t have that problem, the Higgs would have been found more than a decade ago, instead the SSC was cancelled and we have something less powerful as a substitute, with a 15 years delay and a lot of the momentum in particle physics gone (and the best years of a whole generation of physicists who didn’t have any data to work on).

    Building the SSC would have costs less than 1% of the military spending of the US over the course of its construction. Sure, it was perfectly fine to kill it when it couldn’t be justified to the satisfaction of those who killed it….

  • J Shobe

    Wow, what board of ideas. What if, though, the discovery of where the Higgs gets its mass is from extra spacial dimensions we cannot percieve, and then we learn how to percieve them. What if these multiple dimensions are also rooted in other usiverses, and that popping in and out of each was a means of travel within this universe. If suddenly we could perceive these extra spacial dimensions and learned how to navigate them, we might find the path to teleportation, or somthing surely much faster. Like the birds that see millions more colors than we can perceive, if we had the ability to perceive extra spatial dimensions, there might be no limit to the practicle applications of having sought and found the Higgs.

  • Linca

    Can’t the CERN already claim to already have repaid its subsidies by a few magnitudes with the invention of WWW ? The spinoffs of research can be very far from the core subject…

  • Brian Too

    The Jetson’s car, complete with bubble canopy and drink holder!

  • http://twitter.com/JustLikeAmmy JustLikeAmmy

    Functional Harry potter wand, please.

  • Arun

    We create a bubble within which the electroweak symmetry is broken in a different way compared to our vacuum and it turns out to have useful properties – what those useful properties are, I can’t say.

  • daniel vdb

    manipulate the higgs field and particles so we could travel light speeds or even faster !

  • Jason Dick

    Well, if we could really use it to modify the behavior of the weak nuclear force within a specified region, perhaps this could be used to alter the rate of nuclear fusion within that region. So if the energy requirements weren’t too astronomical, this could finally be the technology that leads to wide-scale adoption of nuclear fusion as an energy source.

  • Dean

    Red matter anyone.
    I vote for the nuclear fusion option.

  • Dennis J

    I can say with confidence that the “real world” return on investment in the LHC will not come from the Higs but out of left field, just as the return to Isabela didn’t come from Cathay but the New world. Thinking about it how else are you going to train an army of enginers on a realy big project? Computer hardware and coding? LHC had payed back the investment way before the first beam was ever turned on. From here on out it’s all gravey. As for the real world take a look at Bell Labs.

  • soberandsane

    fridge magnets. From when they tear down the LHC, no doubt. Seriously, we will need the guys who built the LHCs magnets to get better at building big-bigger-biggest magnets for making space travel a bit less harsh on our bodies. But I got nothing for Higgs Boson application, for another billion years anyway.

  • Paul

    Mass-production…

  • danny

    Warpdrive. All else is secondary to that imho. Although as inbetween step the nuclear fusion option could provide the energy needed for that, so yeah. First nuclear fusion, then warpdrive.
    Seriously, I could use a vacation on Risa.

  • http://www.drewem.com Drew

    We already have the first commercially successful spinoff of the Higgs search: Brian Cox.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Could you use it to determine if we’re in a metastable vacuum or not? If so, maybe you could futz with it and destroy the universe!

  • jeg3

    Society needs investment in Exploratory Engineering.

    Eric Drexler: Physical Law and the Future of Nanotechnology
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQHA-UaUAe0

  • lycanravioli

    …or the practical application of the Higgs Boson could be that it is never discovered and therefore forces us to rethink our model of the universe!

  • Phil R

    Well I am not sure, but it seems if we can use the knowledge of how Higgs works to increase mass. This may be a bit simple but perhapse we would be able to increase and decrease the mass of say the body and frame of a vehicle, this could save lives in the event of a car accident or even a plan crash. Also perhaps by generating a field around an airplane, car or spacecraft to reduce the surrounding mass enabling such a vehicle to use much less fuel and travel at great speeds due to less resistance. Lastly there is always a chance we will build a giant mass generator in space that will allow space craft to travel through and be shot across the universe like a bullet from a gun by reducing mass in the direction you want to go and increasing in at the same time increase the mass behind it.

  • RandomActsOfReason

    Based on past history, the most useful spinoffs are likely to be the technologies invented and/or refined in order to be able to measure the Higgs Boson, from large-scale engineering feats to crunching enormous piles of data and everything in-between.

    Many valuable applications are not the direct result of a discovery or project; they are products of the need to solve new problems in order to achieve the discovery or accomplish the project.

  • Chris

    I believe Davros said it best “The destruction of reality itself!”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7SByM_Mctw

    Would help increase chances of funding if you said you were researching a “Reality Bomb” :-D

  • Mitchell Porter

    For the people who want to vary the mass of objects by controlling the Higgs field… Subatomic matter particles can be divided into leptons (like electron and neutrino) and hadrons (like proton and neutron). In the standard model, the mass of the leptons comes directly from the Higgs. But for the hadrons (made of quarks) it’s different – the individual quarks get their mass from the Higgs field, like the leptons, but most of the hadron’s overall mass comes from QCD effects (see comment #17 in this thread) – i.e. other objects inside it, like gluons and virtual (anti)quarks.

    Also, the size of the quark or lepton mass comes from the strength of its “Yukawa coupling” with the Higgs field. The Higgs field has a constant nonzero strength throughout space (the value that minimizes its potential energy), so all those quarks and leptons are encountering a Higgs field of the same strength. Their masses differ because they respond to it differently – the electron couples weakly, so it has a small mass; the top quark couples strongly, so it has a large mass. So if you could somehow cut the Higgs field’s strength by half, the masses of all the elementary particles would also drop by half. For the leptons, that just means they’d be lighter by half, but for the hadrons, the effect would be a lot weaker, because most of the mass is in the QCD effects. Even if you set the mass of up and down quarks to zero, the proton doesn’t become that much lighter.

    So the immediate consequence of somehow adjusting the baseline value of the Higgs field would be to change the balance of forces in the nucleus and especially in the atom (i.e. electron-nucleus interaction). The masses of the proton and neutron (and of the pion which binds them) would all shift in some complicated way, that would change the atomic lifetimes and decay patterns, or which might even make the neutron stable. Similarly, if the electron becomes lighter or heavier, that will change the size and properties of atoms, and hence it will screw up chemistry.

    More challenging is to ask how you could even go about changing the value of the Higgs field across a region of space; because at every point, the self-interaction dynamics of the Higgs field will be trying to restore it to its usual minimum value. I really don’t know how this would work – maybe if you had an ultra-high-energy “Higgs laser”, powered by some enormous astrophysical process, you could create a beam within which the Higgs field was kept at a value away from its minimum. But how would you produce a Higgs laser?

    There are some papers from around 1990 on the coherent production of Higgs bosons in RHIC-style collisions. Now consider the concept of an “atom laser”, a coherent beam of superposed atoms that can be emitted from a Bose-Einstein condensate. Suppose you directed two ultrarelativistic atom lasers at each other – could that produce a Higgs laser? Something for the people who calculate the properties of Dyson spheres and other megascale engineering projects to study…

  • MKS

    better lift and support on Earth

  • Christian Takacs

    I will weigh in with the mighty opinion that as soon as you go beneath the planck level , it’s turtles all the way down baby!
    On a slightly more realistic note, The premise of this column, “What will the Higgs particle lead to?” is a leading question, which is a logical fallacy. As of now, there is no ‘Higgs’ particle discovered , and thus no properties concerning its illustrious nature are known. To be speculating about such a poof of nothing based on nothing is beginning to make Six Day Creationism look plausable in comparison.

    I make an easy prediction,
    The Higgs particle will have exactly the same properties and mass as Bullshit when it is discovered, and will smell and taste just about the same too. On the bright side, it might make excellent fertilizer. On the down side, I think you wont be getting any new HEP toys any time soon as the governments of the world can’t afford to keep buying this kind of plant food.

    I make an easy suggestion,
    You might want to start considering the contingency question “What will you do if you don’t find the Higgs Boson? How far back are you going to have to start winding until you find where you went wrong?” Just saying, an awful lot of very very expensive eggs are all in one basket, you might want to diversify your physics portfolio.

  • http://www.savory.de/blog.htm Eunoia

    UFOs ?

  • Jody

    Seems like you could create a universal resistor. Sort of like how they use Bose-Einstein condensates to slow photons, but for any massed particle at (hopefully) any temp. Also, prob good for lensing, like further focusing beams on a target (for laser induced fusion, or very high powered microscopes, or even very clear telescopes).

  • Marc Sher

    Sean asks what one can do with a large number of Higgs particles. I agree with nonnormalizable – not much.

    The Higgs lives for 10^-25 seconds, so beams are impossible. In fact, couldn’t one ask the same question about Z bosons? I know of no realistic applications of Z’s (although the desire to study them and the Higgs did lead to the World Wide Web, but I think Sean isn’t asking about technological spinoffs, of which there could be many). Since the field is a Bose condensate, it won’t be possible to “locally change” the value of the condensate, so many of the above ideas aren’t feasible. One can always imagine bizarre phenomena outside the Standard Model, but that isn’t the question.

    What about restoring the symmetry? All one needs is an energy density of (300 GeV)^4, which is roughly 10 orders of magnitude higher then RHIC. I suppose it is thinkable in the distant future, but this “bubble” would be unstable and would disappear quickly. Energy is conserved, so I can’t see how you could use it for anything. Energy can’t be extracted from a Bose condensate.

    But I’m over 40, so my brain is obviously over the hill, and maybe others can think of something. I’ve seen nothing in this comment thread yet…

  • Tony C

    New Brains for humans. The “technology” of our new brains, while not direectly invented by any one of us, will be a direct result of finding evidence for a Higgs particle. If the evidence for the Higgs is strong, and the Standard Model thus not refuted by the LHC experiments, the most important technological innovation will be in the way human brains experience the universe during the accessible future. That change in the human brain state will lead to a new “culture”. Culture is the entity in which individual humans and their thoughts/behaviors are embedded – meaning remain individually recognizable, but inseparatable from the whole. The new human brain state created by a cultural familiarity with a well tested standard model will create new ways for the people who develop that brain state to engage with the material world. Those ways will cause them to create innovations in how we live our lilves, and the tools we use to do it. It will also cause them to find new ways to define the cosmos we inhabit, leading to the next phase of our cultural evolution. To paraphrase Kevin Kelly, it’s “What Technology Wants”.

  • http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/ Robert Oerter
  • Tony K

    In building the LHC and its detectors, scientists and engineers had to design and implement a broad range of new techniques and systems. So while finding the Higgs might not have any immediate implications, the new technologies and techniques that come out of the search will. For example, one group associated with CMS came up with a way to mass-solder tiny pin-connectors while achieving a connection resistance more than 5 times lower than using leading industry techniques.

    Also, the analysis methods used in the Higgs search are pushing our boundaries both computationally and mathematically. Researchers are constantly trying trying out new computing techniques so they can process more and more data in the same fixed window (the year only has so many days). The statistical techniques used by the researchers are new enough that the people they’re named after are still at the conferences to debate what the results mean.

    So finding the Higgs won’t give us anything useful in the foreseeable future, but the toys we pick up along the way sure will.

  • ossicle

    Can the Higgs provide an adequate-for-comic books explanation for how The Hulk and Giant Man gain and lose mass when they transform? Marvel has never even tried. ~:O

  • http://flickr.com/sharath Sharath

    *puts sci-fi hat on*

    Send out a small higgs probe towards that doomsday asteroid — the probe can increase its mass “on demand” and can gravitationally alter the asteroid’s orbit to move it out of Earth’s way. Existing techniques just don’t seem to cut it — we need a very early warning (probably a couple of years) to be able to launch one such probe and then more time for the probe to “move” the asteroid out of our way.

    *sci-fi hat gets blown away by wind*

  • Pingback: The Power of Imagination and its aspects « Gufran Ahmad

  • Zack

    “Tractor Beam” (or really, gravity field) could be one potential. If we can concentrate HB’s in an area we can generate mass and therefore “artificial” gravity – assuming we can manipulate the placement, the mass can move and therefore act like a tractor beam to some nearby object (like an Earth-destroying asteroid). Or perhaps offer a distortable gravity field to bend space-time and permit faster-than-light communications. This might make for some kind of hyper-quantum computing (I want credit for that phrase when this becomes reality!).

  • http://mrpant.com Anupum Pant

    Creating the mass effect. It will help us to place mass relays on clusters all over the galaxy. It will help us travel just like the Normandy does.

  • AJS

    As a guy who makes his living doing oncology research, I’m just glad you’ve agreed not to solve our problems for us, and thus put me out of work. Carry on.

  • Gizelle Janine

    Oh, come on, what kind of serious question is that? :/

    I’d like to say anything realistically, but that wouldn’t satisfy anyone on any resolute level, and saying observing other things at this point that seem unobservable is just a can of worms and not specific enough. The effects of finding the god damned thing are just the obvious ones to me, anyway. Getting to places and seeing other things in parts of phase space or whatever space you’d like to observe becoming locally observable? Seeing the multiverse in a real, local sense, maybe? Taking pictures of every non-local event that happens at any given moment would be an awesome one involving every kind of unobservable particle or what have you locally, I think you might agree too.

    (I wonder if there are pictures of vaccum energy…)

    God. It was so open ended I fell through with 72 + other people. *starts laughing*

    @Robert: I was going to get to that one…But we already did it.

  • AndrewS

    It will generate sales for popular science books and help sell newspaper, TV and magazine ads. It could make Sean Carroll a lot of money.

  • http://coraifeartaigh.wordpress.com cormac

    Surely it’s the technology achieved along the way? It doesn’t have to be the thing itself. I’m thinking primarily of the GRID,and it’s use in climate forecasting, but there is also the improvements in imaging which will no doubt find their way into medicine

  • Glenn J Tison

    “Progress towards a unified field theory is its own rewrard”

    You could print that on a beer can opener, then you could open a beer!

    Then you can put your feet up and read this article!

  • stargene

    Einstein was certain that E=Mc^2, detailing the interconvertability of mass
    and energy, could never be of any practical value or use. A now forgotten
    astronomer declared in the 19th century that we could never learn anything
    about the chemistry or even the physics of stars. Before the 1970′s theoretical
    physicists told inquiring students that their questions about what might be
    ‘outside’ or ‘before’ the universe were nonsense since mainstream under-
    standing of GR and cosmology said that spacetime ‘curved around itself’
    cosmically and, ipso facto, that was all there ever could be. So there.

    Someone (Haldane? Clarke?) once said, “If a great scientist tells you
    something is possible, he is probably right. If a great scientist tells you
    something is impossible, he is probably wrong.” Don’t bother critiquing
    this… really…I know it sounds hand wavy, but there’s a large kernel of
    truth in it. You don’t see it? Have a couple of beers and look at it again.

    Possible fallout from deep study of a confirmed Higgs aside, one of you
    hit the main (and usually unsung) fact on the head: One of the great
    drivers of break-throughs in basic and applied science has always been
    the ever accelerating advances in ALL forms of measurement itself.
    Ignorant and posturing politicians notwithstanding, this has also been
    a major driver in all industry and manufacture.

    As to what I’d do with a Higgs Particle…I’d invite it in for tea and cookies
    and ask politely did it have any role in conferring colossally massive egos
    to our CEOs and politicos? Just a thought. :-)

  • chris

    yeah, that’s a sad question, isn’t it? i was pondering it about 2 weeks ago and i think the truth is that there will likely never be any application we can imagine right now. it is very different from faraday’s time – or even that of the birth of QM.

    one misconception that people seem to have is that using the Higgs you can fool around with particle masses. well – you can’t. it’s the vev you’d have to modify and that – afaik – only goes via increasing the temperature.

    changing the mass of particles would on the other hand be much more practical than some here do imagine. yes, the protons (and all hadrons) masses come mainly from qcd. however, the stability of the proton and all kinds of nuclei depends very crucial and very sensitively on the mass of the quarks. playing alchemist is a bit outdated, but maybe one could tweak around to produce some lab-sized neutron stars or such fare :-)

  • Yonesh

    Obvious – deflector field/beam. It’s easier to divert the random matter in interstellar/planetary space out of our way if its mass is less relevant.

  • m

    my guess is communications. the ability to keep transmissions stable over longer distances.

    but like someone else already posted….we will find a way to weaponize it.

  • Kenneth J. Epstein

    The Higgs boson can be used to regulate the velocity of a spaceship by regulating its mass. Decreasing its mass increases its velocity, while increasing the mass decreases its velocity. Arbitrarily large distances can be traversed in arbitrarily short times (as measured on the ship’s clock) by reducing the mass to a minimal level during intergalactic flights. Astronauts can take round trips to and from the edge of the universe without aging at all (their biological clocks would virtually stop, placing them in suspended animation for most of the trip), but the relativistic time dilation would cause an extremely large amount of terrestrial time to elapse—so much that the earth, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, etc., may no longer exist when they return to who knows what. Nobody knows.

  • bob

    I’m reminded of when Robert R. Wilson was Director of Fermilab and testifying before Congress – asked what Defense applications Fermilab might have, he replied that it was the sort of thing that makes the country worth defending.

  • http://littlewinery.blogspot.com Tim Beauchamp

    Just like the early space program and “Race to the Moon” is credited for giving us, or forcing us to develop game changing technological developments like fuel cells, solar cells, water purification systems, and lets not forget Space Sticks and Tang. Haven’t we already started to receive dividend from what we have had to overcome to reach this point in the search? New ways to power, construct, operate and maintain high-T superconductor electromagnets. Other existing technologies that benefits from those like improve mass spectroscopy for environmental monitoring. High temperature superconductors will provide high power density propulsion systems for subs, planes, transit, space elevators. High temp superconductors alone will extend the life of power grids and power distribution channels. The same technologies that will be used to make higgies easier and cheaper will probably allow for “in the lab” elemental creation in the allusive theoretical island of stability.

    Those are benefits that we just get from the search.

  • Ali

    Since discovering the Higgs Boson, that will complete the standard model which will make sence to the Gauge theory and the equal to quantum mechanics. Higgs Boson couldn’t be used it is very uncertain that it will decay to particles (photons). They could be used for high graphics electromagnetic spectrums, but the Higgs Mechanism is that very thing which makes sense. This mechanism will make scientist master quantum mechanics and even more as they master quantum mechanics we will go into deeper questions Like: Is time a vector or scalar or even Tensor? Arrow of Time? Quantum Gravity?

    Higgs Boson will the base of understanding quantum mechanics.

    But still we can’t be sure of that cause the discovery of the Higgs Boson is only 5sigma= 99.999999777% which is still not enough.

  • Baby Bones

    A Higgs sucker as a cure for being overweight, or a larger version, a Higgs vacuum cleaner, so the whole world can have low gravity days!

  • Dominic

    On the basis that what will be investigated at the engineering level will be what we most need and what will make a lot of money, I would expect Higgs to deliver:

    1. A new method of generating power via a gravity engine of some kind placed in orbit round the sun or just (ha!) a new way of making fusion work.
    2. Ultra dense energy storage to rival and hopefully exceed oil and gas.

  • SomeGuyWanderingBy

    This is a fun game. I’m assuming we’re not talking about near future applications here, more along the lines of something useful for a Culture starship to have amongst its manipulator array. In which case: a higgs beam would be an excellent tool for pushing around dark matter.

  • Matt

    It will give a certain subset of tracking satellites a highly advanced sense of humor.

  • Julien

    More powerfull colliders :-)

  • nik

    Perhaps we could create a device that would impress the full weight of journalistic excellence in science writing. For instance, it may be useful in increasing the gravitas surrounding the massive issue of selecting correctly between heavy-sounding homonyms such as “roam” and “rome”. :-P

  • Stephen Olander-Waters

    Cormac mentioned it already, but I wanted to reiterate: advances in grid computing. This will surely have an impact on World Community Grid technology (BOINC) as well as other less public projects.

  • Frank Furt

    Technical app for the Higgs boson [aka the God Particle]:

    A one-size-fits-all finger for the dike?

  • John R Ramsden

    In the very speculative spirit of this fascinating thread, but almost certainly nonsensical as physics both present and future ;-)

    Part of a hi-tech braking system for an interstellar spaceship, or even a more compact intra-solar system craft ?

    Perhaps you could use energy to produce Higgs bosons which before or during their decay might somehow be induced to interact in a suitable way with the all-pervading Higgs field to induce vacuum “drag” like a host of miniature “anchors” to slow the ship.

    To be of any practical use of course it would have to be more sparing of energy than the tried and tested braking technique of chucking mass/energy out of the ship in the direction of its forward motion.

  • Sam Murphy

    As was pointed out above the “Higgs lives for 10^-25 seconds”, if a reaction mass could be increased significantly at exactly the instant of combustion in a rocket engine, perhaps the total amount of fuel could be radically reduced?

  • John R Ramsden

    Further to #95 and #96 – In the same vein, perhaps dark matter is “smog” accumulated over billions of years by advanced aliens using this technique to accelerate and decelerate their spacecraft, the cosmic equivalent of exhaust billowing from countless diesel buses ;-)

  • Thomas Larsson

    Nonrenormalizable got it exactly right – the technological application of the Higgs boson will be none. You cannot build a nifty gadget if you must carry around an LHC to produce the relevant state of matter.

    Off the top of my head, I cannot name a technological application of even the quark model, and that is almost 50 years old. Perhaps something with nuclear power, but the nuclear industry seems to have been healthier before the quark model than it is today.

  • MichaelE

    I assume that “negative mass” will be the result of the higgs boson research.

  • Count Iblis

    In case of charged Higgs bosons, one can imagine accelerating them in a ring, so that they have a large lifetime in the lab frame. Then, one could try to get all of the bosons in the same state. If that’s possible, then perhaps it’s also possible to make the analogue of a flux qubit. The state |0) corresponds to all the bosons rotating clocwise, the state |1) corresponds to anti-clockwise rotations, and you can try to create arbitrary superpositions of these two states.

    The bosons can interact with dark matter particles, so you can use this as a dark matter detector as follows. You start with the state |0), you apply the Hadamard transform U:

    U|0) —> 1/sqrt(2) [|0) + |1)]

    U acts on |1) as:

    U|1) —> 1/sqrt(2) [|0) - |1)]

    Then, you wait a while and you apply the inverse of U (which in this case is U itself). If there any interactions with DM, you don’t get the state |0) you started with back upon measurement, there will be a finite probability to find the system in the state |1). Note that when a DM particle interacts with the state |0) or |1) nothing changes to that state. The fact that the state of the scattered DM particle is different in case it scatters off |0) compared to |1), leads to the effect.

    So, we can detect DM with this set-up, even though it doesn’t affect either the |0) nor the |1) state.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    How can one give a reasonable answer to the question?
    The possibilities of the application are beyond our current imagination. Einstein envisioned a laser. People in Bell(?) labs made them but did anyone foresee the DVD or checkout stand?
    NO.

    My guess – we will be able to create inertial dampening/free fields thus making rockets efficient.

  • Tony

    Whatever use we find for it I’m sure my balding head will remain balding.

  • Jw

    Make it bond with coal smoke recapturing, possible re-use, at least less pollution…emissions from cars also…

  • khang

    create a laser that would vaporize all the hicks boson therefore rendering the object massless and obsolete. Put it on a gun then you could actually shoot anything and it just dissapears. Or vice versa and turn massless photons into massed photons. Shoot anything at the speeed of light then we can stop missles from north korea and iran instantly.

  • John EB Good

    You said it yourself.

    Its principal practical application in the short term (meaning from now to the 24th century) will be providing scifi authors with a sound explanation for fingering Relativity. Cancelling the Higgs is cancelling the mass, and not only lightspeed becomes achievable, but at the tinyest effort of putting the smallest of amateur rocketry motor in the butt of the first probe to the nearest star. (you put another A motor to stop at destination, and 2 more to get back if you care to. Half of a second burn being the exactly the same as a 100 days burn, whatever the probe’s mass. A milisecond burn has also the same effect. Attitude control and navigation is still a technical challenge in those days, though.) :D

    If we can put any amount of energy into a Higgs field cancelling device, we can add just a little more energy to make the probe’s mass negative and negative mass is all it needs to go supraluminal without waking up Albert.

    I know the equations may not add up (I think it’s rather imaginary mass that lacks but negative mass is imaginary enough for entertainment purposes.) But we have a practical application right now, if it’s only to help writers not only come up with entertaining and more realistic stories, yet also for them to deal more easily with those geeks coming out with odd questions about the real world at ComicCons. ;)

    I see another practical application: a scifi author cannot do his job well nowadays without educating himself about the real science out there. The plot mostly lies in the yet unanswered questions and science doesn’t lack any. If you want people to get more excited by science, a good start rest in the ones who tell ‘em good stories. This, I believe, from the beginings of humankind. If they’re educative on top of it, it’s nice a collateral effect. If it pushes anyone of any age to raise his or her scientifical awareness, what best practical application is there for the Higgs, even if it’s not ever found?

  • http://www.archidevsys.co.nz Gavin Flower

    A few thought before I read the other comments…

    Creating an extra strong Higgs field on one side of an asteroid heading for Earth so as to use the Sun’s gravity to deflect its orbit.

    To reduce gravity in a chamber on Earth in a hospital for weak patients – by enhancing the gravitational attraction above the room.

    Another form of communication using gravity waves – might be useful for communicating underground, or to submarines.

    Production of electricity via artificial micro black holes, using a much enhanced Higgs field.

    Enhancing the production of rare isotopes for selectively changing the preferred decay path of particle decays.

    Constructing particle accelerators that use the Higgs field instead of magnets.

    Creating wingless flying machines that work by enhancing the mass of the air above them.

  • Matthew Dixon

    Please excuse my ignorance, but if the higgs field conveys mass to something does that mean it looses mass its self, or am I looking at it all wrong?

  • http://www.facebook.com/steben06 Stephen Saifer Phoenix Widger

    The possibility of manipulating the mass of objects. To me that is one of the more exciting possibilities. And if we can do that, we could change the mass of a nuclear weapon, and via mass-energy equivalance (E=mc^2) make them more or less harmless. It could also allow us to study Black Holes all up in they grills… er, Event Horizons and be able to leave. And last but not least, a ToE!!!!! EEE!!!

  • jeremaeus@aol.com

    Hopefully putting a Higgs field in the ceiling of my Gym so I could finally dunk. That would be cool.

    Oh…and maybe create a higg’s bubble around a ship and slip through space at light speed like a frictionless swimmer. That might be cool too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/timthegreenbeast Timothy Moore

    if you could come turn off the Higgs field in a localized area with two
    “gates”. Anything entering the one gate would turn all the mass into energy right?

    Now if we could learn how to
    direct that energy, energy that can travel the same speed as light,
    hypothetically speaking if we could somehow learn to decode it and make
    it come out of the off Higgs field the same way it went in so we could
    travel at the speed of light.

    Is that at all plausible?

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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