Happy Holidays from ThinkTank Maths - 2013

17 December 2013

On the 4th July 2012, researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva announced that the Higgs boson particle had been discovered. This particle had been theorised to exist over 40 years earlier and for their work on this theory, the “Higgs Mechanism”, Peter Higgs and François Englert were awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

For a long time, one of the biggest mysteries in particle physics was where the masses of the fundamental particles come from. The “Higgs mechanism” describes the origin of the masses of these particles and also predicts the existence of a new particle, the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is a fundamental particle of the universe which means that, like electrons, photons (particles of light) and quarks (which make up protons and neutrons), it is not composed of other particles. Particles can interact with each other or decay to produce other particles and it is the goal of the LHC to provoke such interactions in order to discover new particles, notably the mysterious Higgs boson.

However, the extremely short life-time of the Higgs boson makes its detection very difficult. It has been only by analysing the extremely complex end products of these collisions, and only after many many repetitions that physicists have been able to determine whether a Higgs boson has been created: so many trillions of particle collisions had to be done and meticulously analysed taking years of work in order to be confident of its discovery.

To celebrate these exciting discoveries, some made at Edinburgh University, ThinkTank Maths has created a personalised Christmas card based on collisions which reveal the Higgs boson. To be precise, the animation below simulates the collision of two bunches of particles inside a particle accelerator like the LHC, which interact and decay into lots of other particles, including a Higgs-like particle (highlighted in yellow in the animation).

Controls : Holding down the left mouse button and dragging will rotate the image. Holding down the right mouse button and dragging left/right will zoom in/out.

Your name determines the initial number of particles and their underlying interaction laws, including the chances of producing Higgs particles. Because the results are probabilistic, you may have to try your own name four or five times before a Higgs is found. Some names will produce few Higgs particles, others will produce lots, so if your name isn’t producing many then try someone else’s (family, friends, famous scientists). Unsurprisingly, we have skewed the rules in our universe such that entering the name “Peter Higgs” will produce the most optimal result. Happy hunting!

Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year from everyone at ThinkTank Maths!

Please note that performance will vary according to computer, operating system and browser. An alternative Java version is available here for slower or incompatible systems.

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