You don’t need me to tell you that scientists at CERN announced this week that they had found the elusive Higgs particle. This is the latest in a long line of significant discoveries that we have made by ‘smashing things together’.
- First we smashed rocks together and made ‘sparks’, which are hot mixtures of dust and gas. The atoms within the gas can be disturbed enough to ‘wobble’ and give out light.
- Then we created sustained ‘flames’ and exposed different substances to the bombardment from atoms in the flame. By analysing the ‘spectrum’ of light emitted we came to understand that there were many different types of atoms.
- Then we discovered the only common stable particle which is still – to the best of our knowledge – truly elementary: the electron.
- Then we began smashing electrons into things, and discovered X-rays.
- Then we discovered radioactive emanations and began to smash these ‘alpha, beta and gamma’ emanations into other pieces of matter.
- Then we discovered the structure of atoms and the existence of the nuclei of atoms, and began to smash more and more things into nuclei, eventually breaking them apart.
- Then we began to smash one bit of a nucleus into another bit.
- Then we began to smash electrons into other bits of matter. And looking at the ‘spectrum’ of the debris, deduced that the particles we called protons and neutrons were made out of still smaller particles which (ré Joycing) we called quarks.
- And now smashing the bundles of quarks that we call protons into each other, we have seen a bright peak in the ‘spectrum’ of debris emitted and inferred the existence of another particle of nature – the long-predicted Higgs particle.