Frontiers of Science – Why is There Mass
The 2013 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for the discovery of a particle that proved the existence of an invisible field in space. a field which accounts for why you and I, and every object around us and virtually everything we can observe in the universe – has mass. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Piilonen: By all rights, all particles should have no mass at all, but something was causing them to behave like they carried mass.
Physics professor Leo Piilonen. He says that according to the laws of Quantum Physics, there was no good reason for why things have mass or substance.
Piilonen: We can observe, of course, that everything has mass. The puzzling thing for physicists is – that shouldnt be. Everything should be like the photon – light. We have light in the room here, and we know that the light is mass-less.We would expect, based on principles of symmetry and so on, that everything should behave the same as light. They should all be massless, but, for some peculiar reason, some things have mass, and some things dont. And so, Peter Higgs and his friends came up with this mechanism, the so-called Higgs Field, that was interacting with electrons and protons in a way that would slow them down and, therefore cause them to appear like they had mass.
OK, so physicists have explained why there’s mass. What practical use could come from this discovery?
Piilonen: The same question was asked of Faraday more than a century ago when the electron, the first particle, was discovered. Whats the practical value of knowing that theres an electron thats carrying electric charge?
No one knew at the time, but all manner of electricity and practical applications came of that. And when the king asked Faraday, ‘Why am I funding your research in electromagnetism?’ Faraday said, ‘Well, today, I dont know the answer, but I know that many years from now, your government will be taxing the fruits of this research.’
Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research.