Leader: Congratulations to ‘God particle’ professor
AMONGST the mind-boggling things people learn at an early age is that up to four-fifths of a child’s body is water. Eek! What if I cut myself? Will it all leak out so that I turn into a puddle of water and a pile of mince?
At a slightly older age, another dizzying thing people learn is that solid things are not solid at all, but mostly empty space with little tiny balls of stuff, electrons and suchlike, whizzing around at very high speed. Aargh! Could they stop and I turn into a patch of sand? Could they collide and I turn into a very big bang? Or worse, could they just fly off in all directions and I am never seen again?
Eventually, everyone learns to stop worrying and get on with things. But not everyone. Peter Higgs didn’t. One of the beauties of his theory, now proven to be a physical fact, is that it answers one of those impossible questions only small children ask.
Gosh, say embarrassing uncles and aunties picking up reluctant small people, you are getting awfully heavy. Why? What do you mean why? I mean, why am I heavy? Well, you just are, go and play in the road.
Now uncles and aunties can answer the question. You are heavy because you have lots of Higgs bosons. What are they? Well, they are things that are named after a very clever man called Peter Higgs who is a professor at Edinburgh University. But what are they? Things that make you heavy, now go and play in the road.
Prof Higgs, thankfully, didn’t play in the road. He eventually came up with an answer nearly 50 years ago.
His answer, not to get too deep into particle physics, is the reason atoms and the particles that make up atoms have mass is because there is another type of particle called a boson which gives them mass.
Goodness knows how much money and brain power has been spent trying to prove the idea Prof Higgs proposed in 1964. But this week, the scientists at CERN manning the Large Hadron Collider underneath the Swiss countryside celebrated the fact that after crunching all the data from (and we like this number) 1,000,000,000,000,000 collisions of protons, they had proved the existence of that lovely thing, the Higgs boson.
But what is it? We also like the explanation from CERN director Prof Rolf Heuer. He said it clings to particles to give them mass as hangers-on cling to celebrities at press conferences. The more hangers-on, the heavier the celebrity and, he added: “Prof Higgs is pretty heavy.”
Absolutely. But actually, only a small part of an object’s mass comes from Higgs bosons. The rest comes from dynamical chiral symmetry breaking. What’s that? Look, shut up, just be happy that a very clever man from Edinburgh has found the boson he has been looking for after 50 years.
Our hopes lie with Andy
Football is often said to be Scotland’s national game. This weekend, everyone will be tennis fans instead. Hooray. Andy Murray, after a nail-biting semi-final, has become the first British tennis player to reach the men’s final at Wimbledon since the wondrously named Bunny Austin in 1938.
And everyone will be rooting for Andy on Sunday to become the first British men’s Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry triumphed in 1935. And of course, to strike a more locally patriotic note, he is the first Scotsman to reach the singles final and… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Though the margin in the record books will make it look as though the semi-final was a reasonably comfortable win for Andy, it was anything but. He roared into a two sets lead and then Jo-Wilfried Tsonga came thundering back to take the third set.
The fourth set was an absolute nail-biter, evenly poised until the last game. Andy then produced a couple of what are becoming his trademark shots – seemingly impossible cross-court returns, the second of which was game, set and match point. But was it? Tsonga challenged the line judge call. Commentators said they thought the return was wide. We gripped the edge of our seat and feared the worst. But joy and relief, we got the best, the ball had clipped the line by just enough to be in. Andy had won.
After a summer when football has driven us demented with appalling tales of off-field skullduggery, here’s to tennis. And here’s to Andy Murray, the boy from Dunblane who carries a nation’s hopes on Sunday.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west