Finding a new dimension… we’re getting close!

Take a random SciFi series and chances are, starships will be using faster than light travel and explorers from Earth will encounter beings that exist in multiple dimensions…  well, it seems that SciFi is getting real, at least for the multiple dimensions.

Scientists at the CERN research center in Geneva say their “Big Bang” project is going beyond all expectations and the first proof of the existence of dimensions beyond the known four could emerge next year, as the results of nearly 8 months of experiments in their Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are so promising, they may be able to determine by the end of 2011 whether the mystery Higgs particle, or boson, exists.
Next to that, their high-energy experiments might also provide experimental proof of the existence of extra dimensions!
Both of these discoveries, are of massive importance, as they would finally show, beyond doubt, that the theoretical model of where objects get their masses and the theoretical calculations of up to 10 dimensions in String theory are correct!

Over the year, CERN has been in the news as some people were getting scared as they thought that the evil scientists were creating a black hole that would swallow the Eath :)  Of course, this is the stuff that fills tabloids, but admittedly, who wouldn’t start to wonder when you hear what strange experiments are being conducted in the laboratories… high energy particles, multiple dimensions, secrets of the Universe…

So, let me try to explain the research that is being conducted and what this Higgs particle is, and how we might also finally find proof of the existence of other dimensions than height, width, depth and time.

Let me start by explaining the importance of the Higgs particle.  I’ll use the findings from some of the articles that were submitted in 1993,  when the UK Science Minister, William Waldegrave, challenged physicists to produce an answer that would fit on one page to the question ‘What is the Higgs boson, and why do we want to find it?

So, here we go, for Higgs 101…
What determines the size of objects that we see around us or indeed even the size of ourselves?  The answer is the size of the molecules and in turn the atoms that compose these molecules.  But what determines the size of the atoms themselves?  Here, we have to rely on Quantum theory and atomic physics to provide an answer.
The size of the atom is determined by the paths of the electrons orbiting the nucleus, which in turn are determined by the mass of the electron. Were the electron’s mass smaller, the orbits (and hence all atoms) would be smaller, and consequently everything we see would be smaller.  So understanding the mass of the electron is essential to understanding the size and dimensions of everything around us.

Unfortunately if you try and write down a theory of electrons and other elementary particles (next to the electron we have particles such as quarks) and their interactions then the simplest version requires all the masses of the particles to be zero.
So on one hand we have a whole variety of masses (the electron having the lightest and the top quark the heaviest) and on the other a theory in which all masses should be zero.

How can we unify this theory with the practical observations?
For this, we have to use one very clever and very elegant solution to this problem, a solution first proposed by Peter Higgs in the early sixties.   He proposed that the whole of space is permeated by a field, similar in some ways to the electromagnetic field.  As particles move through space they travel through this field, and if they interact with it they acquire what appears to be mass.  This is similar to the action of viscous forces felt by particles moving through any thick liquid: the larger the interaction of the particles with the field, the more mass they appear to have.  Thus the existence of this field is essential in Higg’s hypothesis for the production of the mass of particles.

We know from quantum theory that fields have particles associated with them, the particle for the electromagnetic field being the photon (hey, there’s SciFi again… launch photon torpedoes!).  So there must be a particle associated with the Higg’s field, and this is the Higgs boson.

And here we come to the massive importance of the work at CERN, as finding the Higgs boson would be the key to discovering whether the Higgs field does exist and whether our best hypothesis for the origin of mass is indeed correct.

Now, onto the multiple dimensions…
String theory intriguingly suggests that six more dimensions exist, on top of height, width, depth and time, but are somehow hidden from our senses.  They could be all around us, but curled up to be so tiny that we have never realized their existence. 

Some string theorists have taken this idea further to explain a mystery of gravity that has perplexed physicists for some time: why is gravity so much weaker than the other fundamental forces?  Does its carrier, the graviton, exist and where?  The idea is that we do not feel gravity’s full effect in the everyday world.  Gravity may appear weak only because its force is being shared with other spatial dimensions.

Again, the high-energy experiments being conducted in the quest for the Higgs particle, could prise open the inconspicuous dimensions just enough to allow particles to move between the normal 3D world and other dimensions.  This could be manifest in the sudden disappearance of a particle into a hidden dimension, or the unexpected appearance of a particle in an experiment.

Exciting stuff!

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One Response to Finding a new dimension… we’re getting close!

  1. Pingback: Finding a new dimension… it gets spooky! | A Commodore Geek's Blog

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