After 50 years of research, scientists are more than 99 percent certain they’ve found evidence for the Higgs boson, or “God particle,” the elementary particle that explains why objects in our universe have mass. The finding may complete the standard model of physics and give us greater insight into our existence.
Peter Higgs, professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh in England, proposed in the 1960s that the universe is bathed in an invisible field now known as the Higgs field, the glue that holds everything together. If the Higgs boson didn’t exist, our universe would be a dramatically different place—and we would have to change much of what we think we know about it.
As European Organization for Nuclear Research Director General Rolf Heuer announced the news in Geneva on July 4, Higgs himself wiped tears away. The finding represents the culmination of half a century of theorizing, proton-smashing, and head-scratching. But it’s also, as David Horsey writes in the Los Angeles Times, “a reminder that each of us is merely a tiny, carbon-based organism existing for a brief moment on a small planet that, by the scale of the universe, is no more singular than a grain of sand on a beach.” That reminder, however, doesn’t have to be disheartening.
For humanists, the discovery of the Higgs boson is even more assurance that science and reason can illuminate our understanding of our lives on this little planet in this gargantuan universe. It’s confirmation that we although we still don’t have the answers to everything, we can begin to unravel the secrets of the universe little by little, even if it takes decades. We don’t have to accept bizarre creation myths and pseudoscience—we can feel confident that hard science, in time, will guide us to the answers we’ve sought for millennia.
Each discovery we make will lift blinding ignorance, superstition, and fear. And, just as Higgs lived to see his theory supported, we can have hope that life-changing discoveries may happen in our lifetimes.