By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: The Great Courses
Narration by: Professor Sean Carroll
Sean Carroll explains how discovery of the Higgs field by scientists using the Large Hadron Collider is an affirmation of the principles of quantum field theory. To a large extent, this short lecture series is a reiteration of Carroll’s earlier book, “The Particle at the End of the Universe”.
Carroll notes that science’s discovery of Higgs boson (in July 2012) reinforces belief that waves, rather than particles, constitute the fundamental building blocks of nature. The Large Hadron Collider’s proof of Higgs boson is misclassified as an elementary particle; i.e. Higgs boson is not a particle but a field in which particle waves exist. Carroll implies particle physics is a subset of field physics because particles are always in motion with varying values in space and time. Because particles are always in motion, and exist only within a field, their position in space and time is only probabilistically determinable. The theory of quantum mechanics is defined as a “…mathematical description of the motion and interaction of subatomic particles…” This theory quantizes energy, presumes wave-particle duality, and affirms an uncertainty principle. Discovery of the Higgs field reinforces theories of quantum mechanics.
Carroll hopes future LHC experiments will find more particles as it reaches full operational potential. (The LHC was shut down for maintenance after its success in finding Higgs boson.) Carroll notes there is a misconception about what a particle accelerator like the LHC does. The Large Hadron Collider is meant to create energy collisions approaching the speed of light. The collisions are not to break matter apart but to create an environment equal to the energy collisions at the time of the universe’s creation.
Occasionally, one finds a misleading analogy of a collider as a circular tube with two objects being smashed together at high-speed to display constituent parts of the collided objects. If constituent parts were the only objective it would be like having a collider used to smash two watches together. After collision, all one would have are two smashed watches with unrecognizable parts. What a collider is meant to do is create; not destroy. Higgs boson is the equivalent of a Rolex but it is not assembled from two smashed watches but from the presumed primordial conditions of life. The LHC is science’s effort to create an environment similar to what existed at the time of the Universe’s creation.
Carroll goes on to discuss dark energy and dark matter. Once dark matter and dark
energy are defined, Carroll explores the theory of super-symmetry as a possible explanation for most of what human’s do not see or understand. It is a door to be opened by further LHC’ experiments. It is called by some as the Search for Susy (Super symmetry).
Carroll notes that proof of super-symmetry will open a whole new field of study in Physics. Carroll, nearing the end of his lectures, suggests that a Higgs field easily combines with known subatomic particles making it a great hope for new discoveries about the origins and possible destinations of life.
Finally, Carroll explores WIMPs (weakly interactive massive particles) as the elemental particle of dark matter. From space to the deepest caves on earth, research is being done to find evidence of WIMPs. To date, no WIMPs have been found.
Carroll is a good communicator for the “science challenged”. Not much new is revealed in these lectures that is not included in “The Particle at the End of the Universe” but in repetition there is learning.