A candidate event display for the production of a Higgs boson decaying to two

Book Reading – Deep Work – by Cal Newport Page 4

Moving on to the 4th page of the book “Deep Work” – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

People mentioned:

  • Mark Twain
  • Woody Allen
  • Peter Higgs
  • JK Rowlings

Let us look at the life of Peter Higgs, eminent Physicist, who predicted the Higgs Boson particle (informally, the ‘God Particle’) 50 years before its discovery and received the Nobel Prize in 2013.

How did he get started thinking on “mass”? This report in Guardian throws light:

In his early 30s, Higgs moved to Edinburgh University, where he became interested in what must be one of the most curious puzzles in physics: why the objects around us weigh anything.

Until recently, few even questioned where mass comes from. Newton coined the term in 1687 in his famous tome, Principia Mathematica, and for 200 years scientists were happy to think of mass as something that simply existed. Some objects had more mass than others – a brick versus a book, say – and that was that. But scientists now know the world is not so simple. While a brick weighs as much as the atoms inside it, according to the best theory physicists have – one that has passed decades of tests with flying colours – the basic building blocks inside atoms weigh nothing at all. As matter is broken down to ever smaller constituents, from molecules to atoms to quarks, mass appears to evaporate before our eyes. Physicists have never fully understood why.

While working on the conundrum, Higgs came up with an elegant mechanism to solve the problem. It showed that at the very beginning of the universe, the smallest building blocks of nature were truly weightless, but became heavy a fraction of a second later, when the fireball of the big bang cooled. His theory was a breakthrough in itself, but something more profound dropped out of his calculations.

Higgs’s theory showed that mass was produced by a new type of field that clings to particles wherever they are, dragging on them and making the heavy. Some particles find the field more sticky than others. Particles of light are oblivious to it. Others have to wade through it like an elephant in tar. So, in theory, particles can weigh nothing, but as soon as they are in the field, they get heavy.

Scientists now know that Higgs’s extraordinary field, or something very similar to it, played a key role in the formation of the universe. Without it, the cosmos would not have exploded into the rich, infinite galaxies we see today. The spinning disc of cosmic dust that collapsed 4.5 billion years ago to form our solar system would never have been. No planets would have formed, nor a sun to warm them. Life would not have stood a chance.

Newport tells us that Higgs works in so much isolation that journalists could not reach when it was announced that he had won the Nobel Prize.

Want to get as deep as that? At least in your own field or area of expertise?

The message yet again is – isolate yourself, go deep!

A candidate event display for the production of a Higgs boson decaying to two
A candidate event display for the production of a Higgs boson decaying to two

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