brucine (broo'-seen), 1) n. Pharm., Chem. a bitter, poisonous alkaloid, C23H26N2O4, obtained from the nux vomica tree; 2) n. Bruce Bortin's 'low-impact' weblog

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ask a Physicist: Higgs, Mass and Time Dave Goldberg's profile photo

Hi Dr Goldberg

In 2001, when LBNL announced the Sudbury findings about solar neutrino oscillation, I went to their press conference. Learned a lot, but there's one thing in particular that I don't understand.

The gist, as I understood it, of the SNO observations, was that a certain flavor of solar neutrino shows up more abundantly here on earth than it should, considering the relative abundance that are produced by the sun. The explanation for this is that during the transit from their creation, out of the sun and to the detector on earth, the neutrinos 'oscillate' flavors, changing from electron-neutrinos to muon-neutrinos or suchlike. One of the takeaways of this discovery was that neutrinos, since they can change over time, must have mass, as massless particles travel at c and therefore don't experience time, so would be unable to change over time.

So it seems to me that while massless particles are doomed to travel at the speed of light and never experience change, we massive entities (I am anything but massless) can exist in, and experience time. As our interactions with the Higgs field are what imbue us with mass, it must be what allows us to be at rest, or at any speed other than c, and to experience change, right? 

Is this a reasonable way of looking at things, and if so, why isn't it being talked about? I've had a google alert set for "Higgs Mass Time" for years, and it seems lime nobody is talking about this aspect of the universe. So, nu?
Bruce Bortin

Hi Bruce,

That's an interesting approach, and there's a lot of truth to what you say.  Time and Energy are intimately related in physics (as are space and momentum or angle and angular momentum), so there's definitely a strong connection between the Higgs (which induces a self-interaction energy in particles) and time.

However, there's a temptation to take an analogy too far.  The Higgs gives mass to certain particles for sure: the W and Z Bosons.  Others, like electrons and quarks, probably get their masses from the Higgs but we're not sure how.  Neutrinos may get their mass from an entirely different mechanism entirely. 

But what about you?  Well, the quarks in your body get their mass from the Higgs (probably), but the mass of protons are about 50 times higher than the masses of their constituent quarks.  In other words, the vast majority of your mass doesn't come from Higgs.  It comes from interaction energies involved in the strong nuclear force.  By extension, most of your mass doesn't come from the Higgs, either.

Just a warning to not take an analogy too far.


Thanks so much for the illumination, Dr G. I really appreciate your taking the time. I am SO pre-ordering The Universe in the Rearview Mirror today!

Bruce Bortin

No comments:

My Blog List


Blog Archive