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St. Thomas community reacts to scientific breakthrough

By , Reporter  |  Saturday, March 23, 2013 12:12 PM

The recent discovery of the Higgs boson “God” particle in Geneva has the St. Thomas community interested in what will come next.

Physics department chair Paul Ohmann said the discovery is amazing for many reasons.

“This is really cool … the Higgs boson is a wonderful example of the interplay between theory and experiment,” Ohmann said.

You have a far better chance of selecting a specific grain of salt from a shaker than finding a Higgs boson particle. Physicists say finding it was a one in a trillion chance. If you want to try those odds with salt, you would need to fill a classroom. (Alex Goering/TommieMedia)

You have a far better chance of selecting a specific grain of salt from a shaker than finding a Higgs boson particle. Physicists said finding it was a one in a trillion chance. If you want to try those odds with salt, you would need to fill a classroom. (Alex Goering/TommieMedia)

Using the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider located under the French and Swiss border, scientists confirmed the discovery March 14. The subatomic particle was first theorized to exist in 1964 by physicist Peter Higgs.

Higgs theorized a subatomic particle that was responsible for giving mass to everything in the universe.

Ohmann said that seeing Higgs’ theory become reality is a major victory for all.

“This was simply a model of how nature might work. There was no guarantee that the Higgs boson would even exist,” Ohmann said. “The fact that it does is awe-inspiring; collectively, we were able to infer the presence of something we hadn’t previously seen, based on the aesthetics of a theory we created.”

While it may be difficult for the average person to wrap his or her head around particle physics, students still look deeper into what the discovery may mean.

Junior Ben Lucius said while the science behind the discovery is difficult to fully grasp, he still appreciates its significance.

“I’m not really sure about all the science behind it,” Lucius said. “I do know it’s taken researchers a really long time find it, so the fact that they did is pretty cool.”

Senior Javier Casillas had not heard about the discovery, but was amazed to investigate further.

“The idea that it can possibly explain how everything is formed … it’s mind blowing,” Casillas said.

During the ‘90s, the Higgs boson particle received the nickname “The God Particle.” It has stuck ever since.

Ohmann said like many other physicists, he was not a fan of the nickname.

“I don’t like this name. It implies that once the Higgs boson is discovered, everything else will somehow be known,” Ohmann said. “There are still many discoveries to be made, and a lot of things we don’t understand, but naming it ‘The God Particle’ sells books.”

Sophomore Jill Haugen said she likes the nickname.

“It’s a good name for it because I still think God created everything, and this particular particle even more so confirms the power of God,” Haugen said. “No scientific discovery counteracts or contradicts my faith. The further I look into science, the more it confirms my faith.”

Regardless of what name it goes by, one thing is certain for Ohmann.

“The discovery of the Higgs boson is a particular thrill to me, and it fits naturally into my fall class, ‘Modern Physics: From the Atom to the Big Bang,’” Ohmann said.

Alex Goering can be reached at goer8777@stthomas.edu.

This item was posted in News and has 2 comments so far.

2 Comments

  1. matthew bearth
    Mar. 23, 2013 3:17 PM

    Well said Jill!

  2. Daniel Volovets
    Mar. 25, 2013 3:22 PM

    The discovery of the Higgs boson particle has absolutely no bearing on the “power of God”.  As Dr. Ohmann astutely noted, the “God particle” moniker was created merely to appeal to the lay person, but in doing so misrepresents the actual scientific concept.  Admittedly, it can hardly be expected that the average person (or even someone with a solid background in physics) could understand what the Higgs boson is all about, but adding a theological twist to the discussion is doing everyone involved a massive disservice.

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