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Higgs Boson!
Illustration by Sandbox Studio, Chicago

Are you a Higgs expert? Take this quiz to find out!

July 4 marks the 10th anniversary of the discovery of the Higgs boson.

This 10-question quiz will test your knowledge of the particle—and it may even teach you something new. Click through each of the answers for more information.

Close, but there is more. Scientists often use the name Higgs to refer to the Higgs particle, also known as the Higgs boson. 

In the Standard Model of particle physics, particles are divided into fermions and bosons. Fermions are matter particles, such as quarks and electrons. Bosons are force-carrying particles, such as the photon (which carries the electromagnetic force) and the gluon (which carries the strong force). But “Higgs” can refer to more than just that!

Close, but there is more. The Higgs field is a quantum field. According to quantum field theory, every particle is actually just a localized vibration in a quantum field. So a single electron is a vibration of the electron field, which exists everywhere throughout the universe. A Higgs boson is a vibration of the Higgs field, which also exists everywhere throughout the universe. But “Higgs” can refer to more than just that!

Close, but there is more. “Higgs” can refer to the Higgs mechanism, which is the solution that physicists came up with to solve a problem they were having with their understanding of the fundamental forces of nature.

By the 1960s, physicists had figured out that electricity and magnetism were actually both manifestations of the same fundamental force: electromagnetism. They had also noticed that, above a certain energy—say, in the early universe just after the Big Bang—another force should have been united with electromagnetism: the weak force.

But there was a problem. Their equations predicted that the particles associated with these forces should all be massless. The particles associated with the weak force can’t possibly be massless, though. If they were, the process the weak force is responsible for—radioactive decay—would be out of control, and the universe would be a much different place. 

The Higgs mechanism is the process that, as the universe began to cool down after the Big Bang, broke the symmetry between electromagnetism and the weak force, allowing the weak force particles to have mass. But the Higgs is more than just a mechanism!

Close, but there is more. Peter Higgs is the theoretical physicist for whom the Higgs mechanism, Higgs field and Higgs particle are all named.

Correct! The Higgs mechanism, named after Scottish theorist Peter Higgs, describes the Higgs field, which scientists study by producing Higgs particles.