Higgs boson? *Yawn* SFF got there first

Cartoon picture of quarksThe world’s physicists held their collective breaths when the big announcement was made from CERN that the hadron collider had provided evidence that the Higgs boson existed. But science fiction and fantasy knew about it years ago.

So what’s a Higgs boson when it’s at home? If you want scientific type explanations, here’s one place to start. Or you could check out this animated version – careful, though. It mentions quarks and periodic tables. The picture at left is of the six types of quarks.

For all you other low-level geeks (like me), a boson (noun) is defined as “Any of a class of particles, such as the photon, pion, or alpha particle, that have zero or integral spin and obey statistical rules permitting any number of identical particles to occupy the same quantum state.” The Higgs bit is because Higgs was the man (along with a bunch of other people around the same time – mid-sixties) who suggested such a thing existed.

The issue was mass, or what we often call weight. Everything is made of stuff, right? This computer, the desk, my cup of tea, me… And yet anybody who has been exposed to the most elementary science knows that ‘stuff’ is made of atoms, a bunch of electrons whizzing around a nucleus which is made of protons and neutrons. In fact, ‘stuff’ is made up of mainly, er, nothing. Or maybe just energy. So all the mass is in the nucleus? Um, no, not actually. The protons and neutrons are made up of sub-atomic particles which also have no mass. So where does the mass come from?

Enter Higgs et al. These exceedingly clever men asked the impossible question. What gives ‘stuff’ its mass?

It seems the Higgs boson (which is energy) slows down the other particles (with the notable exception of photons) which aggregate, forming mass. Sort of.

Just like in Star Trek’s ‘beam me up, Scotty’ transporter device. What you do is, turn off the Higgs boson, which removes the object’s mass, send the particles that comprise the object as a particle beam somewhere, and then turn on the Higgs boson again. Simple.

You’ll see a similar process in Harry Potter. Wizards can apparate and disapparate, right? Flick off the Higgs boson and flick it back on again. But the transfer has to be in an envelope encasing the object to be transferred. If anything else gets mixed up with it, you get nasty business like splinching in Harry Potter, where atoms from something else are put in the wrong places.

It’s been done before, though. Even before Mister Higgs (et al) dared to dream. Remember the film ‘The Fly’? First filmed in 1958, the movie is about a scientist experimenting with matter transfer, using himself as the guinea pig. He succeeds, but a fly is also transferred, with rather nasty results. Here’s the link to Wikipedia’s article on the subject.

Who knows? Maybe Mister Higgs (et al) saw ‘The Fly’ and was inspired? It wouldn’t be the first time science fiction has paved the way for science fact. Do you have any other examples where matter transfer is used in SF or Fantasy? Please share. Interested parties wish to know.

2 thoughts on “Higgs boson? *Yawn* SFF got there first

  1. Michael Cooper

    Not to immediately derail too much, but The Fly bugged me (no pun intended, honest) because we already share our bodies with lots of other things, No reason that you’d be any more likely to turn into a fly than a mass of bacteria from your intestines…

    I would wonder how you deal with the fact that with the higgs boson off the subatomic particles all fly apart. I guess I’ll get Scotty to sort that out 🙂

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