• University of Edinburgh

The Discovery of the Higgs Boson

Should we be excited about the Higgs boson? Find out more about particle physics and understanding the universe.

36,933 enrolled on this course

The Discovery of the Higgs Boson
  • Duration

    7 weeks
  • Weekly study

    5 hours

The discovery of a new fundamental particle at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), CERN is the latest step in a long quest seeking to answer one of physics’ most enduring questions: why do particles have mass? The experiments’ much anticipated success confirms predictions made decades earlier by Peter Higgs and others, and offers a glimpse into a universe of physics beyond the Standard Model.

As Professor Peter Higgs continues his inspiring role at Edinburgh University’s School of Physics & Astronomy, the experiments at the LHC continue.

This free online course introduces the theoretical tools needed to appreciate the discovery, and presents the elementary particles that have been discovered at the tiniest scales ever explored. Beginning with basic concepts in classical mechanics, the story unfolds through relativity and quantum mechanics, describing forces, matter and the unification of theories with an understanding driven by the tools of mathematics.

Narrating the journey through experimental results which led to the discovery in 2012, the course invites you to learn from a team of world-class physicists at Edinburgh University. Learners participate in discussion of the consequences of the Higgs boson, to physics and cosmology, and towards a stronger understanding and new description of the universe.

Photo of Professor Higgs © Peter Tuffy, The University of Edinburgh

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  • Week 1

    Theoretical description of physical phenomena

    • Why is the discovery of the Higgs Boson important?

      The Sun is still burning, 4.6 billion years after it was created. But why?

    • Understanding the Higgs discovery plot

      What does it really mean that we have discovered the Higgs boson?

    • Introduction to week 1

      We discuss the general ideas underpinning the theoretical description of natural phenomena in the simplest possible context: Newtonian classical mechanics.

    • Newtonian dynamics and conservation laws

      We discuss the basic ideas of Newtonian dynamics, and highlight a few important concepts that will be useful in later weeks.

    • Conservation laws and symmetry

      We discuss how conservation laws are related to symmetries of the system. This is an important concept, which remains valid at small distances when quantum mechanics is needed to describe the dynamics.

    • In conversation with Peter Higgs

      Peter Higgs shares his views on the concept of particle and fields in classical mechanics.

    • Summary

      Here we summarise the ideas introduced this week. Although you do not need to have followed all the mathematical derivations, you should be familiar with these concepts by the end of week 1.

    • Glossary

      Here you can find a glossary that we will keep updating for the whole duration of the course.

  • Week 2

    From Maxwell to Einstein: the world at the atomic scale

    • Introduction to week 2

      We present some basic elements of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. They are the pillars upon which our current description of the subatomic world is based.

    • Maxwell's equations

      Maxwell's equations describe the propagation of light in the form of electromagnetic waves. They are the first example that we encounter of field equations.

    • Special relativity

      Experimental results and theoretical principles of special relativity.

    • Basic ideas of quantum mechanics

      The description of Nature at the atomic scale requires a completely new paradigm. Do atomic systems behave as particles or waves? These lectures introduce the basic ideas at the very heart of quantum mechanics.

    • In conversation with Peter Higgs

      Peter's comments on electromagnetism and quantum mechanics.

    • Summary

      Here we summarise the topics studied in week 2.

  • Week 3

    A theory of matter and light

    • Introduction to week 3

      Quantum field theory is the framework that combines quantum mechanics and special relativity. This week will focus on quantum electrodynamics, the theory that describes the interactions of photons and electrons.

    • Relativity and quantum mechanics

      The duality between particles and waves is a characteristic feature of quantum mechanics. Relativistic wave equations are needed in order to combine quantum mechanics and special relativity.

    • Quantum electrodynamics

      The dynamics of relativistic fields is described by quantum field theory. Here we introduce the basic elements of quantum electrodynamics, the theory that describes the interactions of matter and light.

    • In conversation with Peter Higgs: part one

      Peter discusses the role of symmetry in quantum electrodynamics.

    • In conversation with Peter Higgs: part two

      Peter's comments about divergences, and renormalisation in QED.

    • Summary

      The main focus of this week has been quantum field theory. Let us summarise the main topics discussed in the lectures.

  • Week 4

    From QED to QCD and the weak force

    • Introduction to week 4

      The ideas upon which QED is built can be generalised, and a more general class of theories called gauge theories can be constructed. The theories of the strong and weak force are gauge theories.

    • Quantum chromodynamics

      We explore the basic features of the strong and weak forces; both are described by gauge theories, i.e. generalizations of quantum electrodynamics.

    • The electroweak force

      In this section we explore in details the characteristics of the weak force. We discuss physical processes mediated by weak interactions, and highlights the difficulties in building a consistent theory of massive gauge bosons.

    • Spontaneous symmetry breaking

      Symmetry breaking is central mechanism in the description of several phenomena ranging from solid state physics to elementary particles. Here we introduce the basic ideas underlying the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism.

    • In conversation with Peter Higgs

      Peter's comments on the development of a theory of the strong and weak forces.

    • Summary

      Here is the summary of the main topics in this week's activities.

  • Week 5

    The Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism and the Standard Model

    • Introduction to week 5

      The Higgs mechanism plays a central role in the Standard Model; it gives mass to the weak force carriers, but also to quarks and leptons.

    • The Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism and the Standard Model

      In this activity we will describe the implementation of the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism in the Standard Model.

    • Higgs production and decay in the Standard Model

      We are finally in a position where we can study the production and the decays of the Higgs boson. These are the events observed by experiments at CERN.

    • In conversation with Peter Higgs

      Peter's comments on the famous 1964 paper.

    • Summary

      We conclude as usual by summarizing the topics discussed during this week.

  • Week 6

    Experimental evidence for the Standard Model

    • Introduction to week 6

      The physics of particle colliders, and the experimental searches for the Higgs boson: starting from LEP and TeVatron to the LHC. The next experimental steps and the future of collider physics.

    • Early experimental searches for the Higgs Boson

      From Gargamelle, to the Super Proton-Antiproton Synchotron, the Large Electron Proton collider, the TeVatron and the Large Hadron Collider

    • Searches at the LHC and the discovery of the Higgs boson

      Capturing the Higgs boson, reconstructing it from its decay fragments, piecing together the evidence.

    • The next experimental steps

      First priority: measurement of the Higgs properties

    • In conversation with Peter Higgs

      Experimental searches for the Higgs Boson

    • The experimental challenges

      CERN Image CC BY (Image Editor on Wikimedia Commons)

    • Why is the sun burning so slowly?

      What is the relation between the Higgs boson and the rate at which the Sun is burning?

    • Summary

      We summarise the ideas and experimental results of the Higgs boson searches that we discussed this week.

  • Week 7

    Beyond the Standard Model

    • Introduction to week 7

      What are the new challenges in particle physics?

    • Theories beyond the Standard Model

      The new challenge for fundamental physics is understanding the physics _beyond_ the Standard Model. There are several open questions that will guide our investigations of new theories.

    • The hot Big Bang

      Particle physics provides the foundations for cosmology, and models of the early moments of our Universe. Cosmological observations are a powerful method to test the theory. In this activity we introduce the hot Big Bang model.

    • The vacuum, the Higgs field and modern cosmology

      In this final lecture we discuss open problems in modern cosmology. Some of these open questions may provide the key to the development of new theories.

    • In conversation with Peter Higgs

      Peter's comments on theories beyond the Standard Model.

    • Bonus material: more footage from CERN

      Interviews with theorists and experimentalists from the CERN site

    • Summary

      The quest for new physics beyond the Standard Model has already started. We hope the course has triggered your curiosity for this topic.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

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Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Discuss fundamental building blocks of the Standard Model
  • Explore Quantum Mechanics and Special Relativity
  • Describe elementary Particle Physics

Who is the course for?

The course for its most part requires a basic level of mathematical skills, at the level of a final-year school pupil.

Some of the video lectures are significantly more advanced and include University-level math material. However, people encountering difficulties with the most advanced material should still be able to answer the quizzes and complete the course successfully. A basic knowledge of physics is helpful, but not required.

Who will you learn with?

Particle Physics: Electroweak Symmetry-Breaking mechanism, Exotica searches, hadron-collider triggers, future colliders.

Professor of Theoretical Physics

Who developed the course?

The University of Edinburgh

Founded in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of the world’s top universities and is globally recognised for research, innovation and high-quality teaching.

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