Last Wednesday’s lecture, by theoretical physicist Matthew Strassler, concerned the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC has received a lot of attention in the press, with an appalling amount of ink and electrons being spent spinning tales of doom. Put simply, the LHC is the largest particle accelerator ever constructed- it "shoots" (using eletromagnetic fields) protons in two opposing streams, with the resultant collisions producing smaller subatomic particles.
While much of the popular press concerns the search for the hypothetical Higgs boson- often referred to in popular accounts as "The God Particle" (Q:Why do physicists refer to it as the God Particle? A: They don't- the whole "God Particle" thing was a marketing pitch for a book). More importantly than the search for the Higgs boson is the search for the underpinnings of the Higgs field, which is responsible for mass according to the Standard Model of particle physics. A cartoon representation of the Higgs mechanism helps to visualize this concept.
So far, the Higgs boson has not been observed- one particular difficulty in the search for the hypothetical Higgs boson is the rapid decay of subatomic particles. Additionally, there is no hint as to whether such a particle would be massive or tiny- if tiny, a Higgs boson would probably decay into two photons, if massive, then particles similar to the Z particle. At any rate, the search continues- if a single "Higgs boson" is not located, then another mechanism, such as other particles, would be posited for the source of the Higgs field.
I apologize for the somewhat sketchy recap- particle physics isn't my main area of dilettantism. The lecture was much, much better than my belated (with a couple of bouts of boozing between lecture and write-up) summary. Part of the lecture consisted of "talking doom and gloomers down from the ledge", and part was a deflating of the hype that the media has attached to this project.
The justifiably famous LHC rap by Kate McAlpine gives a very nice overview of the LHC, and the Higgs Field:
Before the lecture, we had a performance of the new piece by local favorite and all-around good guy Zach Charlop-Powers: