Of rabbit’s feet and god particles…

The excitement is palpable!

“We are homing in on the Higgs. We have had hints today of what its mass might be and the excitement of scientists is palpable. Whether this is ultimately confirmed or we finally rule out a low mass Higgs boson, we are on the verge of a major change in our understanding of the fundamental nature of matter.”

Those were words today, at the top of the special seminar called at Cern, the European particle physics lab near Geneva.

To summarise, scientists are on the verge of probably finding something out which is close to proof of the existence of the famed “God particle” — the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is a subatomic particle that was predicted to exist nearly 50 years ago and that has been searched for ever since. In fact, the Higgs boson is a remnant of the Higgs field — the thing that gives mass to nearly everything in the universe. Finding the Higgs boson would prove the existence of the invisible Higgs energy field that fills the vacuum throughout the observable universe. The field itself has little to no chance of being observed, which is why scientists look instead for the Higgs boson particle — a ripple in the field.

The media and their ilk are very good at naming things. Science communicators and writers take credit for popularising science and giving the man on the street an easy way into science; by easy to digest concepts and platitudes — The Big Bang and The God Particle are just two such examples.

But is this a good thing? Are they doing you a disservice? Yes, and no. It risks simplification, oversimplification and skewing the real science that goes on. And at times approaches science fiction instead of science fact. Take a look at all the stories about the hunt for the god particle. Talk of black holes ending the world makes great water-cooler talk for monday morning with colleagues. On the up side at least it offers you a way in, to get down to the more nittier and grittier side of the science.

Talk over the past week and the coming days will all be about the Higgs boson, but let’s not forget the other scientific projects that are going on at Cern.

As poetic as “the God particle” is, its purpose serves one similar to a MacGuffin, reminding me of that Mission Impossible film where Simon Pegg’s character explains what the Rabbit’s Foot is. In the film we never find out what the Rabbit’s Foot is… its purpose is only to lead us into the story and this world.

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What had I twaught…


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