Posted Sunday, July 15, 2012, at 10:30 AM
After a solid week of failing to grasp what a Higgs boson is, I resorted to desperate measures and asked zany physicist Lawrence Krauss (author of The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe From Nothing) to enlighten me. I had read that the Higgs boson “imparts mass” to otherwise massless particles (notably the W and Z bosons). But it was hard to imagine how a particle could give mass to other particles, and my disorientation was only deepened by the fact that some people said it was the Higgs particle that imparts the mass and some people said it was something called the Higgs field that imparts the mass.
Krauss did a remarkably good job of clarifying things. In the first clip below, he explains the particle-field relationship generically (and also takes us on an entertaining digression about the likely contents of his obituary). In the second clip, he explains how this particle-field relationship illuminates the role of the Higgs boson.
OK, now here’s the riveting pedagogical climax (in which I mistakenly refer to the Z boson as the D boson, thus lowering my chances of getting a Nobel Prize in physics):
Follow Robert Wright on Twitter: @robertwrighter