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The God particle – What is it?

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The "God particle" is the nickname of a subatomic particle which particle physicists call the "Higgs boson." Here, "boson" describes the type of subatomic particle, and "Higgs" refers to one of the most prominent physicists who first predicted its existence. The Higgs boson allows physicists to understand a number of different aspects of the field of particle physics, one of the most important being why some particles (like protons and neutrons) have mass and others (like photons) do not. What follows is a very brief, very simplified explanation of how the Higgs boson fits into modern physics, and how science is attempting to study it.

The "standard model" of particle physics attempts to describe the forces, components, and reactions of the basic particles that make up matter. It deals with atoms and their components, but focuses particularly on the properties and interactions of subatomic particles. It is an extremely successful method of understanding particle physics, and it continues to improve. The model predicts that there are certain elementary particles even smaller than protons and neutrons. The last particle needed to complete the standard model picture of particle physics was the Higgs boson, whose discovery was officially announced on July 4, 2012.

In the standard model, the Higgs boson is responsible for giving mass to the particles which make up virtually all of the matter in the world around us. To grasp the essential idea, imagine two people, running together down the beach, with one person running on the sand, and one person running in the shallow water which is 2 to 3 feet deep. Naturally, the person running on the sand will find it easier to move quickly than the person running through 2 to 3 feet of water, since the effect of the water is to make the second person's legs feel "heavier" and harder to move, compared with the first person. In this analogy, the Higgs boson is like the shallow water, and any subatomic particles (or "runners") moving through the "water" will feel "heavier"—i.e., they will acquire a "mass." The Higgs boson thus helps physicists to understand where mass comes from, and its discovery in 2012 was a major milestone in our understanding of physics.

The "God particle" nickname came about at the publication of Leon Lederman's book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?. It emanates from physicists' long struggle to find this particular particle. The "God particle" nickname has since taken on a life of its own, partly due to the monumental questions about matter the "God particle" could possibly answer. The man who first proposed the Higgs boson's existence, Peter Higgs, is an avowed atheist; so he doesn't much care for the nickname, despite the fact that there really is no religious intention behind it.

So although the name of the "God particle" has nothing whatsoever to do with God Himself, its discovery declares His glory, even as the rest of creation does (Psalm 19:1). This is because He is the Creator of everything: " For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him" (Colossians 1:16). The progress seen in the past few years in the field of particle physics only continues to declare God's glory to His creation.

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