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Put simply, the Higgs boson is thought to be the elementary particle responsible for the existence of mass.
The concept was introduced into particle physics in the 1960s as a means of solving the problem of why some force-carrying particles have mass but others don’t.
In the “Standard Model” of particle physics, the electromagnetic force is carried by photons, which are familiar to us as particles of light, and the weak nuclear force is carried by particles called W+, W- and Z bosons.
Abdus Salam, Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg found that the electromagnetic and weak forces are different manifestations of a single phenomenon – at an energy of around 100 GeV, they unify into what is known as the electroweak force. However it was not understood why the photon is massless and the W and Z particles are massive.
What is now known as the Higgs mechanism was proposed by Peter Higgs and others as a way of explaining why this should be the case.
In the Standard Model, quantum numbers such as electric charge are dependent on ‘coupling’ to the appropriate field – in this case the electromagnetic field. The Higgs mechanism introduces another – the Higgs field – into the theory. Particles that couple to this field gain a mass, while those that don’t couple to it will remain massless.
The Higgs particle is a quantum of the Higgs field in a similar sense to a photon of light being a quantum of an electromagnetic field.
There are also some versions of the Higgs mechanism in which there is a field but no particle.
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