Mass is one of the most important concepts in science, but a full explanation of where it comes from has eluded physicists for decades.
They recently worked it out. To find the answer, they needed to look into the world of quantum mechanics.
Quantum mechanics found that within protons and neutrons, there is a whole new series of particles like quarks, gluons, and bosons. They fit together in a framework called The Standard Model.
Gluons are part of this model, and they make other particles (like quarks) stick together. Their energetic movement create most of an object’s mass. But even when you account for the action of gluons, there is still a remainder of mass that is not accounted for, and this was the mystery that baffled scientists for decades.
It turns out it comes from a thing called the Higgs field.
Quantum field theory discovered that the universe is made up of several invisible fields like a series of nets that stretch out over the universe, in every direction.
Everything in the universe interacts with them in one way or another. The electromagnetic field is one of them, and the Higgs field is another.
The leading theory was that quarks are constantly running into the Higgs field, which slows them down like a tennis ball skimming across water in a pool. This restriction of the movement of quarks is what gives them the remainder of their mass.
But before this theory could be confirmed, the ‘Higgs Boson’ had to be discovered. It’s a ripple in the Higgs field, like how the photon is a ripple in the electromagnetic field.
The Higgs boson is one of the most difficult particles in quantum mechanics to detect, which has made it one of the ‘final pieces of the puzzle’ in experimentally verifying the Standard Model. As such, it’s been the white whale of particle physics for over 40 years.
In a display of the power of our theoretical models, the Higgs boson was identified for the first time in 2013 in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider after an enormous international effort, proving the theory and putting to rest the question of where mass comes from.