Not only were physicists dealing with the onslaught of new subatomic particles, they were also dealing with some very weird phenomena. See, the subatomic world isn’t like our world; it’s a weird world. In our world, separating two things removes their connection to each other. In the quantum world, two particles are always connected, regardless of how far apart they are. Physicists devised explanations for the mind-bending phenomena they saw, defining things that must exist but had not yet been found.
One such theorized entity is the Higgs boson. In the 1960s, physicists were struggling to understand how subatomic particles gained mass. Mass is what makes particles “stick” to each other. Without mass, all particles would fly around the universe at the speed of light and would never “stick” together to create things like stars, planets, horses, people, cell phones, etc …
Peter Higgs (the boson’s namesake), devised an elegant – but theoretical – solution. Imagine that the entire universe is covered in a mesh. As particles move through the universe, they can either fly directly through the holes in the mesh or they can hit the webbing of the mesh. Each time they hit the mesh, the particle slows down. This mesh is called a Higgs field, and the more a particle hits the mesh, the more mass the Higgs field endows into the particle.
The intriguing idea that Higgs had, however, was that physicists could prove this mass-endowing field existed by observing a byproduct of the Higgs field: the Higgs boson.
So, what is the Higgs boson? The Higgs boson is a subatomic particle that emerges from the Higgs field. The Higgs field is buzzing with energy, and sometimes that energy concentrates in one spot. This concentration of energy, like bees swarming to a soda can, is the Higgs boson.
Wait. Isn’t the Higgs boson a particle? How is it both energy and a particle?
Because all particles are just concentrations of energy in a field, and all fields have particles.