What is the Higgs boson?
A lot of people have been asking me about the Higgs boson today (for "a lot" read "up to two"), probably because they think I know something about particle physics and the creation of the cosmos.
I don't. However, I do like to throw a lot of big words into my conversations for no good reason, which has fooled people into thinking I'm well educated. Actually, I get most of my information about the universe from the daily horoscope section. Fun fact: There is a giant bull in the sky! How does he stay up there? Is the crab holding him up somehow?
If your friends want you to bestow upon them some knowledge, use my handy guide to sounding really smart.
Make stuff up. Throw in some references to ancient Greek philosophers, a weird anecdote or two, and make it sound mathy. Not too mathy, just enough math to scare off the lightweights.
Allow me to demonstrate. To understand the Higgs boson, you have to understand atoms.
Atoms are really, really, really small. They were discovered by the ancient Greeks, notably Leucippus, who theorized there must be invisibly small particles, because he could swear there was something in his eye, but no one could see it! Not even him, and it was in his eye! Atoms!
After Leucippus, philosophy declined, as the ancient Romans were more practical-minded, focused less on questions about the order of the universe, and more about the engineering of aqueducts, the building of roads, and the exact number of Gauls you had to stab to death before they would stop trying to ambush your soldiers.
It wasn't until the 19th century that scientists started getting serious again about searching for the smallest particles. Doctors discovered vitamins, chemists found basic elements, and there was even an ill-fated attempt to breed a smaller and more efficient scientist. Unfortunately, Toulouse-Lautrec was more interested in painting and turned his back on advanced mathematics.
In 1912, Nikola Tesla isolated the first individual atoms - about a dozen of them - at his Colorado laboratory, while fending off an invading army of ninjas with his lightning cannons. (The ninjas were, of course, sent by Thomas Edison, whose ties to ancient Japanese ninja clans is an oft-told tale.) Tesla presented the atoms to former U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt, but they were lost when Roosevelt was shot in the chest in an attempted assassination. The atoms are credited with stopping the bullet, however.
Later that same year, Albert Einstein realized that matter and energy are the same thing, paving the way for people to turn atoms into bombs. This discovery that atoms were explosive did a great deal of harm to the nascent industry of creating bullet-proof shirts lined with atoms, inspired by Roosevelt's shooting.
Finally, in the late 1990s, while everyone else was watching Beverly Hills 90210, some scientists carved a 27-kilometre tunnel into the mountains of Switzerland. After selling the mountain's creamy chocolate centre, they built the world's largest particle accelerator and began their experiments. At first they made antimatter, but eventually they were encouraged to do some basic science and stop just blowing stuff up. They decided to get back to ferreting out very, very small particles, looking for a nice heavy one. Thus, the search for the Higgs boson began.
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