The announcement this week that two groups of scientists have narrowed the search for the elusive Higgs Boson made headlines around the world. Next year, physicists actually hope to find the Higgs particle.
But is this an end to physics? No – It’s just the beginning. The Higgs particle is the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, called the Standard Model of particles although we have yet to confirm its existence.
Once found, it will complete this picture of known sub-atomic particles. However, the Standard Model can only explain 4% of the matter/energy content of the universe. The rest is made of dark matter (23%) and dark energy (73%). We know that atoms make up a distinct minority in this universe and 96% of the univese is NOT made of atoms (and the particles of the Standard Model). Even more glaring, the Standard Model does not contain gravity, yet gravity is the most pervasive force in the universe.
Obviously, the Standard Model can only describe a small piece of the universe. Worse, from an artistic point of view, the Standard Model is thought to be one of the ugliest theories to be proposed in all of modern physics. It has over 19 free parameters, 3 sets of redundant particles, 36 different types of quarks and anti-quarks, and a motley collection of gluons, leptons, Higgs, Yang-Mills particles, etc. To me, it is like taking Scotch tape, and wrapping up an aardvark, platypus, and a whale, and calling this natures finest evolutionary achievement.
Obviously, the Standard Model is not the final theory and even the originators of the Standard Model admit this. At present, the only mathematically self-consistent theory which can give a truly unified picture of the universe is string theory. It has not yet been verified, but the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) may eventually find convincing evidence for the theory, if all goes well. The next target for the LHC might be dark matter, an invisible substance which holds the galaxy from flying apart; The leading candidate for dark matter comes from string theory. In this controversial picture, the particles we see around us (arranged into the Standard Model) are akin to the lowest octave of a vibrating string. But the string has higher “octaves,” and these describe the “sparticles,” or superparticles. It is also believed that dark matter consists of the sparticles predicted by string theory.
So finding the Higgs particle, instead of being the end, is actually just the beginning of the long quest, begun by Einstein himself, to find a theory of everything.