Discovering the Higgs boson

The first thing you notice about Higgs boson is how small he is. Not just Tom Cruise or Jon Stewart small. Really small. Smaller than Danny DeVito. Smaller than Robert Reich, but with a much better sense of humor.


So small, in fact, that scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research had to build a $10 billion machine just to find him, and when they did, as they announced on the Fourth of July, they could only impute his existence.

Me, I found him lounging poolside at the Ritz, sipping on a very tiny pina colada with an even tinier umbrella sticking out of it. He’s European, so he was wearing one of those slingshot bathing suits and a leather jacket.

What follows is a transcript of the first celebrity interview with the reclusive “God particle.”

Q: So, Higgs. Why have you been so hard to find?

A: I’ve been around. That’s the whole secret, isn’t it? If I’m not around, then you’re not around. This hotel isn’t around. All the molecules in all the water in that pool aren’t around. I impart mass to matter.

Q: Matter? What’s matter?

A: Nothing. What’s matter with you? Oh, I kill myself. No, really. All matter. You don’t have me, you don’t have matter. In fact, you don matter, period.

Q: I don’t understand.

A: Of course you don’t. You are a newspaperman. I bet you flunked physics in high school.

Q: Just about.

A: So let me explain. I’m a boson, one of the tiniest particles in particle physics. All of the other particles are attracted to me. ...

Q: So you’re like a tiny little George Clooney?

A: Quiet. I may be short, but I’m heavy. The more they rub up against me, the more mass I impart. It’s like a politician rubbing up against a rich guy. Without money, the politician might as well not exist. The more the politician rubs, the more money the rich guy throws off. Money is mass.

Q: So that explains the “God particle” thing.

A: I never said that! I never claimed to be God. That was my agent. She was trying to get me a book deal. She said, “Without my guy, nothing really exists,” and the next thing you know, people are saying I claimed to be God. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I’ve met God. She’s nothing at all like people think. The finest director I ever worked with.

Q: You were around for the “Big Bang.” What was it like?

A: Loud. Really, really loud.

Q: So if you’re like the rich guy who throws off money onto politicians, what’s in it for you?

A: I beg your pardon?

Q: Rich guys don’t give money to politicians without expecting something in return. What do you get for imparting mass to other particles?

A: The satisfaction of a job well done. Plus it makes me feel like God.

Q: Is there someone special in your life?

A: Like I’m not special enough? I give everything mass. People searched for me for decades. They built a $10 billion collider so they can throw hadrons — large hadrons, I might add — at each other. Finally they have to impute me. I’m special all by myself.

Q: No, it’s the Barbara Walters question. It means, are you dating anyone?

A: Oh. I’ve never really found the right particle. I work all the time. Get home really late. Fix a TV dinner, maybe call out for Chinese. I’ve got all the “Star Trek” episodes on DVD. That’s no life for anyone else.

Q: You’ve never had a serious relationship?

A: I met a nice photon once, but she complained I was never around.

Q: But now that you’re a big celebrity, now that you’re out. ...

A: What are you implying?

Q: Nothing. It’s just that before this month, nobody knew for sure that you existed. Now that you’re famous, I bet there are plenty of cute particles that would like to rub up against you. You need a Facebook page. You need a Twitter account.

A: You think?

Q: Sure. You could go clubbing. You could do “The Bachelor.” You could do an album, something like, “The Higgs boson sings songs of love.” You could easily find a boson’s mate.

A: I’m not a very good singer.

Q: That doesn’t matter if you’re famous enough. And right now, you are the hottest particle in the universe.

A: I don’t know. For a particle, I’m particular. You spin through the Higgs field all day long, you’re pooped at 5 o’clock. You say “Higgs field” to somebody, they think you’re talking about a minor league baseball park. Nobody really understands me.

Q: I sure as heck don’t.

A: I could tell.

• Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


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