What problem does the Higgs field solve

The missing piece of the puzzle:

All the basic particles of our current theory have been discovered ... ... with one exception, the so-called Higgs particle.

The problem with the crowd

Its existence is linked to the central problem of particle physics, namely the question of how particles get their mass. At first glance, it is noticeable that the masses of the elementary particles differ by many orders of magnitude. According to today's knowledge, the neutrinos have a mass of fractions of an eV, whereas the top quark is almost 200 billion times heavier! There are also enormous differences between the masses of the particles, through whose exchange the force effects are mediated. The so-called W and Z particles (carriers of the weak interaction) are almost 100 times as massive as a proton. The photon (carrier of the electromagnetic force), on the other hand, is massless. At the moment there is no explanation for these enormous differences, because all particle masses are free parameters of the Standard Model, so they cannot be calculated from theory. This riddle is not solved by the Higgs mechanism either, but it does at least allow a description of the masses.

The Higgs Mechanism

To make matters worse, the standard model does not contain any masses in its original form, or the existence of massive particles even contradicts it. The so-called Higgs mechanism solves this problem. This idea was developed in 1964 by the Scottish physicist Peter Higgs (Fig.).

Animation of the Higgs mechanism

He assumed that the vacuum is not empty at all, but is filled with a background field, a kind of viscous liquid. The movement in this field slows down the actually massless particles, which in its effect corresponds to a mass. Why some particles are slowed down more than others (i.e. have different masses) is still not explained in this model.

The Higgs particle

This background field (like all quantum fields) is linked to a particle, the so-called Higgs boson. The proof of this particle has so far not been successful. From the unsuccessful search one can only conclude that it must be heavier than 114 GeV if it exists. The search is therefore continued on accelerators that are operated at higher energy. The Wuppertal working group is involved in one of these experiments, the DØ detector near Chicago. If it is not found there either, the last hope rests on the experiments at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) in Geneva, which will begin in five years. The Wuppertal working group is also involved here. If the Higgs is finally not found there, the standard model is wrong!

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