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What's New in Physics & Astronomy - 2013

What is Mass?

Speaker: Tim Gorringe
Date: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.   Seating is limited. Reservations required.
Location: Davis Marksbury Building

Students are introduced to mass in elementary school as a property of an object like size, shape, color, etc.   But what is mass?   Where does mass come from?

In the world's largest physics experiment in history, teams of thousands of scientists working in Switzerland at CERN's $10,000,000,000 Large Hadron Collider believe they have discovered the origins of mass. Their claim is based on the discovery of the Higgs particle which is fundamental evidence for the existence of the Higgs field.

It is surely one of the biggest scientific discoveries of our lifetime and will presumably earn a Nobel Prize for British physicist Peter Higgs.  But what is this mysterious Higgs field and how does the field give mass to you and me?

Introduction to a Stunning Discovery

This segment outlines the presentation and introduces the large hadron collider (LHC), the massive ATLAS and CMS experiments, and the economic scale and human scale of the experiments. It ends with speculations on the Nobel Prize for the Higgs particle prediction and Higgs particle discovery.


Mass and Fields

We examine the concept of mass from the different perspectives of Newton and Einstein. Fields are introduced, starting with the familiar gravitational and magnetic fields. Our modern understandings of the mass of an atom and the masses of the proton and the neutron are not as simple as one might expect.


The Higgs Field and its Role in Creating Mass

We meet the Higgs field, and also consider aspects of empty space and the universe. Two demonstrations are used to model how the Higgs field gives mass to particles: sugar and ping-pong balls; and a prism and light beams.


The Experiment and Data; and What's Next?

How do ATLAS and CMS actually "see" individual Higgs particles? Here’s an opportunity for you to join the search for Higgs particles and other things at There are still lots of unanswered questions and puzzles about the Higgs particle, and crazy ideas abound about so-called dark matter and dark energy that fill the universe.