Science & Environment

Best explanation of the Higgs boson?

Former science minister, William Waldegrave, offered a prize in 1993 for the best lay explanation of the Higgs boson. Professor David Miller, of UCL, won the prize with the following analogy.

Image shows room full of people
Scientists' best theory for why different things have mass is the "Higgs field" - where mass can be seen as a measure of the resistance to movement. The "Higgs field" is shown here as a room of physicists chatting among themselves.
Room full of people, new scientist enters the room
A well-known scientist walks into the room and causes a bit of a stir - attracting admirers with each step and interacting strongly with them - signing autographs and stopping to chat.
Crowd gathers round well-known scientist
As she becomes surrounded by admiring fans, she finds it harder to move across the room - in this analogy, she acquires mass due to the "field" of fans, with each fan acting like a single Higgs boson.
Two crowds around different scientists, one big, one small
If a less popular scientist enters the room, only a small crowd gathers, with no-one clamouring for attention. He finds it easier to move across the room - by analogy, his interaction with the bosons is lower, and so he has a lower mass.