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Explaining CERN, the Higgs and the LHC

By Matin Durrani


How well would you do if someone asked you to explain the Higgs boson or the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN?

If you’re a physicist, you’ll probably find it hard enough. But if you’ve never done any physics in your life, things must surely be trickier still, more so if a film crew from Physics World has shoved a camera up your nose.

These two short videos show the results of a straw poll of randomly selected visitors at last summer’s Bristol International Balloon Fiesta when we asked them to describe the Higgs boson and the LHC.

The reason we were at the fiesta is that we were making a separate film about a project by Bristol University physicist Dave Cussans where school students were measuring cosmic rays during a hot-air balloon flight – it being the centenary of Victor Hess’s discovery of these rays in a balloon flight in central Europe.

Take a look at the videos and you’ll see just how much the search for the Higgs has entered the public consciousness. Some of the people do a pretty good job, although there are one or two total blanks. Both videos end with a “proper” explanation by Bristol University’s Joel Goldstein, who was also on hand at the fiesta.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to check out some more of our Higgs coverage, which includes a great feature by Tommaso Dorigo on what CERN physicists actually do, a look back by Michael Riordan at the long quest for the Higgs boson, and an audio interview with Peter Higgs himself from when he visited Physics World‘s offices last year.


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  1. Robert L.Oldershaw

    Physics Today should consider a “contest” among theoretical physicists for who can produce the most comprehensible description/explanation of the “Higgs Mechanism” and “Higgs Field” that still retains scientific accuracy (e.g., no molasses or fudge or cereal box versions).

    Man, would I like to see that!

    • Dileep V. Sathe

      Good suggestion by Robert.

    • Peerally

      A full description of the SM squared particle is too early to be contemplated for a present text would leave holes that can be contested. However I strongly believe that the LHC is a very important project and allowing it another 2-3 years to persevere is crucial. I like the project for it will settle the point to many of the confusion around the SM. To me the SM is an excellent approximation as Besud believes but we need to have definite indications that this is not just a belief but a reality. The LHC I am convinced will do that task.

  2. Robert L. Oldershaw

    Of course I meant Physics World, but the suggestion can be extended to any physics journal or magazine on the planet.

  3. Sagar Sharma Poudel

    Yes I agree. The idea of Higg’s boson should be as comprehensible as the idea of atom for even physics students like me.

  4. The Standard model is an excellent approximation to reality with or without Higgs and it, I mean SM, has been by now developed into the super unified field theory. The problem of unification is solved completely other way around that it is expected to be.

  5. Emily Bug

    The Particle at the End of the Universe was a well written physics book that discusses Higgs. I recently read this book(I am a young student, not yet highschool), and it was great for me because I comprehended what the author wrote.

  6. Trackback: Una giornata straordinaria al CERN | Giu47furb's Blog


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