Chatting Higgs

By Sean Carroll | July 12, 2012 10:04 am

Greetings from Vegas, where I’m here for The Amaz!ng Meeting, at which I’ll be talking Saturday. But I’ll also be talking today using one of these fancy electronic information-processing gizmos that are all the rage among the young folk these days. That is, we’re having a video chat, sponsored by the Huffington Post, to talk about the Higgs boson excitement and also something about what it means for science communication across the expert/public divide.

Update: oops! It’s actually not streaming live. Sorry about that. Will be posted later.

We start at 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific. I think you will be able to find the chat by clicking here; if not I’ll try to update. Other participants will be HuffPo science blogger Cara Santa Maria (oops just found out Cara can’t make it), Henry Reich of the increasingly famous MinutePhysics videos, science comedian Brian Mallow, high school science teacher Lorren Hotaling, and the whole thing will be moderated by HuffPo’s Josh Zepps.

To tide you over, here are Henry’s latest videos about our favorite scalar boson. Part One:

And Part II:

  • Simon

    A dumb question for the smart people: when people talk about the role of the Higgs mechanism in giving mass to the other particles, are they really talking about inertial mass (or just inertia)? For the sake of argument we might talk about inertial and gravitational mass as possibly different. But most of us think of them as the same thing (equivalence). But I never hear mention of the Higgs mechanism and gravity, except to say we do not know how to reconcile GR (or gravity more generally) and the SM (or QM generally).

    Not sure this is even a real question. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

    • Sean Carroll

      Definitely inertial mass. Gravity has no direct connection to the Higgs mechanism.

  • JW Mason

    So what fraction of the mass of normal matter comes from the Higgs mechanism, as opposed to the share from the binding energy of the strong force between the quarks in neutrons and protons?

    • Sean Carroll

      The Higgs contribution is a tiny amount. Most of the mass in atoms comes from the QCD binding energies in protons and neutrons.

  • Simon

    Sean – thanks for the answer. Figured as much but good to know from an expert.

  • James

    Matt Strassler, on this point, notes that particle masses affect the strength of the strong nuclear force and thus the mass of nucleons. Though I’m not quite sure how. Quark masses drop out of the QCD beta function, no?

  • Albanius

    Another naive question: if the Higgs field (or fields) pervades space and confers mass to quarks and massive bosons, how is that reconciled with the Michelson-Morley experiment?

    Wouldn’t Earth have a particular velocity relative to this field?

    I suppose the answer is that light, unlike massive particles, doesn’t interact with the Higgs field, so its velocity is always c, regardless of the motion of the observer relative to the Higgs field.

  • Entropy

    @ Albanius

    The Earth needn’t have a velocity WRT the Higgs field any more than it needs to have one with respect to the electromagnetic field. Indeed, what Michelson-Morley really proves is that the electromagnetic field does not have velocity/orientation/time-dependent properties, which is called Lorentz invariance. All Standard Model fields, including the Higgs field, are similarly Lorentz invariant by construction.

    @ Simon

    Even though the end result of the Higgs contribution is on the percent level, it is still critical. Without the Higgs, the composite particles as we know them (e.g. proton) would not exist. Additionally, the electron’s mass is a direct result of the Higgs field.

  • max

    @ Albanius, to add to what Entropy said, the Higgs field is kind of weird in its Lorentz invariance. No matter how fast you go or what direction you look, the Higgs field always has the same value (it’s a scalar — just a number at every point in space-time). While electromagnetism works the exact same way regardless of how fast you’re going, the electromagnetic field itself looks a little different. If you speed up, electric fields will generally transform into magnetic fields and vice versa.

    I always thought that the “Higgs field as molasses” explanation was misleading precisely because it so strongly implies implies a rest-frame.

  • Gary

    @Sean Carroll

    “we’re having a video chat, sponsored by the Huffington Post”

    Politically Fred Hoyle-like.

    Smart people not so much.

  • meh


    anywho, I would say that the Higgs is one of the most misunderstood things in Physics. It’ll be nice to have people from different levels of experience come together and explain it for everyone.

    I think the concept of a Higgs Field and how it imparts mass is pretty good evidence for M-Theory.

  • Gary

    Huffingtonpost; presumably smart people channeling density like certain elementary particles channel mass.

    The Hugs field: group synch.

    Inevitably fleeting; the world be saved.

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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] .


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