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San Diego Physicists Unlock A Small Secret Of The Universe

An artistic view of the Higgs Field is shown in the image above, August 10, 2...

Photo by Daniel Dominguez/ CERN

Above: An artistic view of the Higgs Field is shown in the image above, August 10, 2013.

In a new discovery, UC San Diego physicists have unveiled a secret of the universe. They've proven where one of the smallest fundamental particles in existence gets its mass.

The research findings from Switzerland-based laboratory CERN were announced this month. The lab has the world’s largest particle accelerator, called the Large Hadron Collider, and scientists there have been using it to study the nature of mass at quantum levels.

Listen to this story by Shalina Chatlani.

This work is important because understanding mass is critical to understanding the origins of the universe, says Vivek Sharma, physicist at UC San Diego and one of the lead researchers on this new discovery.

“One of the key questions in science is ‘how do objects gain mass?’,” Sharma said. “We would not exist if the extremely small particles like electrons don’t have mass. And according to Einstein's theory of relativity, objects which have no mass have basically one option. They fly at the speed of light.”

Reported by Shalina Chatlani

Sharma says mass is essentially how everything in the universe gets its existence. Massless objects theoretically disintegrate and fly into the abyss. In 2012, Sharma’s colleagues at CERN made a critical discovery, winning them the Nobel Prize in physics.

Using the Large Hadron Collider, scientists found that all heavy massive objects get their mass by interacting with particles, known as Higgs boson, through an infinite energy arena, called the Higgs field.

“Scientists believe that the mass of different particles comes from their interaction with this field which is all-pervasive, which is invisible, and it is sticky,” Sharma said.

He likens this field to a swimming pool, where the objects inside are moving together with the water in the pool.

Now Sharma and his team have discovered that it’s not just large objects which get their mass from the Higgs field, but also extremely small subatomic particles.

Photo credit: CERN

The inside of the Large Hadron Collider is shown in the image above, October 2013.

“Our research has shown that Higgs boson is also the god of small things. It gives mass to not just heavy stuff, but also some light stuff like the electron,” he said.

Sharma says understanding the nature of mass in the universe’s fundamental particles will help scientists understand how we exist.

“Understanding the nature of mass of fundamental particles is crucial to understanding how this universe came to be,” Sharma said.

Sharma says he plans to use this finding to continue studying the nature of mass in the universe’s tiniest entities.

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Photo of Shalina Chatlani

Shalina Chatlani
Science and Technology Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover all things science and technology — from the biotech industry in San Diego to rooftop solar energy on new homes. I'm interested in covering the human side of science and technology, like barriers to entry for people of color or gender equity issues on biotech boards.

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