Deconstructing Mass

A day after the announcement at CERN of the experiment confirming the (probable) existence of the Higgs boson, the Indian Express carried an article by Payal Ganguly that was provocatively titled UoH Professor looks beyond the God particle. A discursive interview with Professor Bindu Bambah of the School of Physics, the article tried to explain to the lay public what the excitement was all about.

This post is not to recap all that, but merely to point to those sources and some others wherein one can hopefully understand why the discovery is such a big deal. Its not just that there is mass at the end of the tunnel, its also a staggering scientific and engineering feat, and as Prof. Bambah says, a “vindication of scientific method and thinking.”

Her own research is, of course, connected with experiments at CERN. As she describes in the IE article, In 1988-1990, I worked on the electron positron collider, which was a low-energy version of the present LHC. That was when India was taking baby steps in the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Today we have a huge presence there, with participation in major experiments, contribution of significant money, and much opportunity for additional work, looking beyond this particular set of experiments.

Given the fact that several colleagues in the School of Physics work on particle physics, we should have a public lecture at the University on the discovery as soon as term begins later this month to learn more of what images on the left mean. Really. Meanwhile, my son sent me this link (one of many such, I am sure) that is accessible to a wider audience, from the PhD Comics site, The Higgs Boson explained. And recognising the general interest, there was even an episode of The Big Fight on “Will Science be able to define God?” on NDTV…

But speaking of comics, there is a raging discussion on the font used by CERN in their power-point presentation. Strong opinions are being voiced on what font to use, or more to the point, to not use… Comic sans MS being deemed stylistically inappropriate for such gravitas. Even if much of this discussion is on Twitter… Anyhow, I am also certain that there is some space for levity here, in spite of the gravity of it all, so let me take this opportunity to announce a clerihew competition on this theme. Send your entries by email, or comment on this post. To start things off, here is mine:

Said Peter Higgs

While munching figs,

I think it odd

To call my particle God.

Professor Bambah (the title of this post is a nod to her joint position in the Centre for Womens Studes at UoH) will judge the competition and decide the winner, unless she sends an entry in too…


6 thoughts on “Deconstructing Mass

  1. That elusive particle higgs,
    said I don’t know how it is-
    the electrons need one place each
    while we can all squeeze into a niche.

  2. Said the particle to Higgs, “It’s not odd,
    You of all *should* be calling me God,
    If not for me you’d be a big mess,
    And the standard model would be Higgsless.”

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