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Higgs Force: The Grand Synthesis

Most of the ingredients of a new understanding of particle physics had been devised by the late 1960s. But it took a while for the full significance of these novel ideas to be recognised. Everything changed with the unexpected discovery of a new particle in November 1974. This particle was interpreted by the American theorist Stephen Glashow as the first evidence of a new flavour of quark – the charm quark. Support for this explanation was provided by experiments at accelerators around the world and almost overnight the scenery of fundamental physics changed. This period has become known in physics folklore as the November Revolution of 1974. There now emerged a grand synthesis of particle physics described in terms of a small number of fundamental particles that interact via two forces, the electroweak force and the colour force. This combination of particles and forces is known as the standard model.

Under the charismatic leadership of Bob Wilson, Fermilab, near Chicago, was emerging as the new national particle physics laboratory in the United States. The next 30 years would see profound discoveries on both sides of the Atlantic that would give ever greater support to the predictions of the standard model. The victories would be shared by Fermilab and its European counterpart and great rival CERN near Geneva.

Higgs Force by Nicholas Mee

Aerial flight - Main Ring and Main Injector.
(Copyright Fermilab)

Higgs Force by Nicholas Mee

“Moonrise over the Highrise” Sunset and Wilson Hall. (Copyright Fermilab)

Echoing Mendeleyev, but at a deeper level in the structure of matter, it is now possible to construct a Periodic Table of Elementary Particles. By the year 2000, every particle in this table had been found except for one. The missing particle is the Higgs, the lynchpin of the standard model. In 2000, work began at CERN on the construction of the most powerful particle accelerator that the world has ever seen – the Large Hadron Collider – with the aim of completing the jigsaw of the standard model and then looking further into the unknown. In the next chapter we will take a look at this remarkable machine.

Higgs Force by Nicholas Mee Higgs Force by Nicholas Mee

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