Via the In the Dark blog, we are reminded that today (Aug. 31) is the 48th anniversary of the seminal paper in Physical Review Letters by physicist Peter Higgs ("Broken Symmetries and the Masses of Gauge Bosons"), in which he first mentioned the possibility of a certain boson that now bears his name.
The Higgs field is usually described by way of a cocktail party analogy. Guests at the event are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Celebrity. When said Celebrity arrives, s/he will immediately attract a cluster of adoring fans as s/he moves through the room, thereby gaining momentum (and mass).
That clustering effect is the Higgs mechanism. Per the Exploratorium: "A sort of lattice (the Higgs field) fills the universe… Scientists know that when an electron passes through a positively charged crystal lattice of atoms, the electron's mass can increase as much as 40 times. The same might be true in the Higgs field: a particle moving through it creates a little bit of distortion — like the crowd around the star at the party — and that lends mass to the particle."
And, naturally, in quantum mechanics, a field can also be expressed as a particle, in this case, a boson.
As important as Higgs' paper has been to particle physics, Andrew Zimmerman Jones rightly points out over at About.com:
So, happy 48th anniversary to Higgs and his boson!
Images: (top) Peter Higgs awaits announcement of Higgs discovery at CERN. Credit: CERN. (bottom) Images of Higgs' 1964 paper. Copyright 1964: The American Physical Society. Reproduced with permission. You can download the entire paper free here.