Higgs Boson - History


See also: 1964 PRL symmetry breaking papers and Higgs mechanism

The six authors of the 1964 PRL papers, who received the 2010 J. J. Sakurai Prize for their work. From left to right: Kibble, Guralnik, Hagen, Englert, Brout. Right: Higgs.

Particle physicists study matter made from fundamental particles whose interactions are mediated by exchange particles known as force carriers. At the beginning of the 1960s a number of these particles had been discovered or proposed, along with theories suggesting how they relate to each other, some of which had already been reformulated as field theories in which the objects of study are not particles and forces, but quantum fields and their symmetries. However, attempts to unify known fundamental forces such as the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force were known to be incomplete. One known omission was that gauge invariant approaches, including non-abelian models such as Yang–Mills theory (1954), which held great promise for unified theories, also seemed to predict known massive particles as massless. Goldstone's theorem, relating to continuous symmetries within some theories, also appeared to rule out many obvious solutions, since it appeared to show that zero-mass particles would have to also exist that were "simply not seen". According to Guralnik, physicists had "no understanding" how these problems could be overcome.

Particle physicist and mathematician Peter Woit summarised the state of research at the time:

"Yang and Mills work on non-abelian gauge theory had one huge problem: in perturbation theory it has massless particles which don’t correspond to anything we see. One way of getting rid of this problem is now fairly well-understood, the phenomenon of confinement realized in QCD, where the strong interactions get rid of the massless “gluon” states at long distances. By the very early sixties, people had begun to understand another source of massless particles: spontaneous symmetry breaking of a continuous symmetry. What Philip Anderson realized and worked out in the summer of 1962 was that, when you have both gauge symmetry and spontaneous symmetry breaking, the Nambu–Goldstone massless mode can combine with the massless gauge field modes to produce a physical massive vector field. This is what happens in superconductivity, a subject about which Anderson was (and is) one of the leading experts."

The Higgs mechanism is a process by which vector bosons can get rest mass without explicitly breaking gauge invariance, as a byproduct of spontaneous symmetry breaking. The mathematical theory behind spontaneous symmetry breaking was initially conceived and published within particle physics by Yoichiro Nambu in 1960, the concept that such a mechanism could offer a possible solution for the "mass problem" was originally suggested in 1962 by Philip Anderson, and Abraham Klein and Benjamin Lee showed in March 1964 that Goldstone's theorem could be avoided this way in at least some non-relativistic cases and speculated it might be possible in truly relativistic cases.

These approaches were quickly developed into a full relativistic model, independently and almost simultaneously, by three groups of physicists: by François Englert and Robert Brout in August 1964; by Peter Higgs in October 1964; and by Gerald Guralnik, Carl Hagen, and Tom Kibble (GHK) in November 1964. Higgs also wrote a short but important response published in September 1964 to an objection by Gilbert, which showed that if calculating within the radiation gauge, Goldstone's theorem and Gilbert's objection would become inapplicable. (Higgs later described Gilbert's objection as prompting his own paper.) Properties of the model were further considered by Guralnik in 1965, by Higgs in 1966, by Kibble in 1967, and further by GHK in 1967. The original three 1964 papers showed that when a gauge theory is combined with an additional field that spontaneously breaks the symmetry, the gauge bosons can consistently acquire a finite mass. In 1967, Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam independently showed how a Higgs mechanism could be used to break the electroweak symmetry of Sheldon Glashow's unified model for the weak and electromagnetic interactions (itself an extension of work by Schwinger), forming what became the Standard Model of particle physics. Weinberg was the first to observe that this would also provide mass terms for the fermions.

However, the seminal papers on spontaneous breaking of gauge symmetries were at first largely ignored, because it was widely believed that the (non-Abelian gauge) theories in question were a dead-end, and in particular that they could not be renormalised. In 1971–72, Martinus Veltman and Gerard 't Hooft proved renormalisation of Yang–Mills was possible in two papers covering massless, and then massive, fields. Their contribution, and others' work on the renormalization group, was eventually "enormously profound and influential", but even with all key elements of the eventual theory published there was still almost no wider interest. For example, Coleman found in a study that "essentially no-one paid any attention" to Weinberg's paper prior to 1971 – now the most cited in particle physics – and even in 1970 according to Politzer, Glashow's teaching of the weak interaction contained no mention of Weinberg's, Salem's, or Glashow's own work. In practice, Politzer states, almost everyone learned of the theory due to physicist Benjamin Lee, who combined the work of Veltman and 't Hooft with insights by others, and popularised the completed theory. In this way, from 1971, interest and acceptance "exploded" and the ideas were quickly absorbed in the mainstream.

The resulting electroweak theory and Standard Model have correctly predicted (among other discoveries) weak neutral currents, three bosons, the top and charm quarks, and with great precision, the mass and other properties of some of these. Many of those involved eventually won Nobel Prizes or other renowned awards. A 1974 paper in Reviews of Modern Physics commented that "while no one doubted the correctness of these arguments, no one quite believed that nature was diabolically clever enough to take advantage of them". By 1986 and again in the 1990s it became possible to write that understanding and proving the Higgs sector of the Standard Model was "the central problem today in particle physics."

Read more about this topic:  Higgs Boson

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