Quirks & Quarks

Where was the Higgs boson particle 'hiding' before it was discovered?

The Higgs boson particle always existed, it was just waiting for the right tools to come along for it to be produced and then detected.
The Higgs boson is produced in the collision of two protons and quickly decays into four muons, a type of heavy electron. (Lucas Taylor/CERN)

This week's question comes to us from David Carlisle in Markham, Ontario, who asks: Scientists used the Large Hadron Collider to detect the existence of the Higgs boson. Where was it hiding before the collision? 

Dr. Wendy Taylor, a professor of physics at York University in Toronto, explains the Higgs boson was not really hiding, it always existed. In order for is to be found, they needed a particle collider with enough energy to produce the mass of the Higgs boson according to the formula e=mc2. The Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland had enough energy to produce the particle. However, the Higgs boson is very rare and required the LHC to collide billions of protons every fifty nanoseconds for about two years in order to produce enough particles to claim a discovery. Even then, researchers had to understand how the Higgs boson decayed into other smaller mass particles in order to say for certain the Higgs boson had finally been detected. That happened in 2012.