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Name: Ed
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Question:
If the Higgs particle is discovered at CERN in a few years, what will it mean? Will we be able to control gravity like we can control electricity now?



Replies:
Hello Ed,

The discovery of the Higgs particle, in any form, will be a huge step in experimental particle physics. The Higgs will be (I am assuming they find it!) the crowning achievement of the Standard Model of particle physics. Its discovery has been long over due (I do not think many would have guessed that some 30 years later it would still be undiscovered) and its absence has given particle physicists some cause to modify the Standard Model in different ways to account for this absence. Essentially, scientists have looked at higher and higher energies without finding it. Since we do not see it, but are fairly confident, we push to higher energies in our search. Each time we search higher without finding it, we have to push back the lower limit on its mass to higher and higher values. I should point out that going to higher energies is not merely to search for the Higgs, but for many other predicted particles as well.

However, its absence thus far has given rise to many different theories to account for it. Some of these theories predict not just one kind of Higgs, but many. They often bring in various interesting models such as super-symmetry. In general, the Higgs needs to not be quite so massive for the Standard Model to function. Therefore, in order to explain such a heavy Higgs we have to modify the model in some way to account for this.

Anyhow, none of this will lead directly to use having any greater control over gravity than we already do today. The energies are so extreme, and the conditions so difficult to achieve, that any straight-forward application is not directly foreseeable. That is not to say that scientists will not eventually figure out something grand in the future. Just that with our current understand, it is difficult to see how it would be useful. That is also not to say that other useful things will not come from the work. For instance, the WWW you are using to ask this question was largely developed by scientists and engineers at CERN!

Lastly, take my words with a grain of salt. My area of physics is quite removed from high energy particles.

best wishes,

Michael S. Pierce
Materials Science Division
Argonne National Laboratory



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