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How The Search For The Higgs Boson Led Me, And You, To The WWW


9/10/2012
By Mandy Aguilar

The elusive Higgs Boson particle or the so called "God Particle" seems to exist after all. I did not know it at the time, but we had already benefited by the science involved in its search.
 
Mandy Aguilar

I figure that not that many of us in the auto parts industry wondered how the recent announcement on Independence Day this year that the Higgs Boson, which had been theorized into existence decades before, was possibly, finally found. The realm of particle physics was abuzz with news of this discovery out of the CERN Labs in Geneva. The elusive Higgs Boson particle or the so called “God Particle” seems to exist after all. I did not know it at the time, but we had already benefited by the science involved in its search.

I was fascinated by the multitude of science news headlines that flashed across the Web that day announcing its discovery. It motivated me to set out on a personal journey of understanding, to at least in a rudimentary manner, master the Higgs Boson for the benefit of my readers. I figured, Who better to help my friends and colleagues in the auto parts industry understand this complex subject than me, the techy-science guy? Well, I’m here today ready to tell you that, on particle physics, I’m not your guy and we might all need to go back to college and really bone up on a physics degree to barely grasp the complexity of this elusive particle.

The more I read about it, the deeper into confusion my brain plummeted. Once my scientific method approach fell down the tubes, I figured at least could find a shortcut with some “Higgs Boson for Dummies” guide on the Web to help me understand it once and for all. I did find plenty of YouTube videos with all kinds of analogies that honestly were as confusing as the scientific explanations I pored over for days before. The one analogy that finally derailed my pseudo-scientific endeavor was one where they spoke about a “fish in the water.” An allegedly over-simplified tale, where the water molecules are the Higgs Boson, Quarks are the fish, and the Protons are the scales — far out man! Now you see what I mean about this stuff being so confusing.

So, here we are none the wiser about the darn particle. As I was getting ready to scratch the whole idea for this column, I saw a great video blog about a computer scientist who worked with the team at CERN 10 years before the Large Hadron Collider was built. This scientist proposed to create the tools that led to the creation of the World Wide Web (you know, the www in front of the web address) as we know it today. He proposed this in order to store, dissect and share the gigantic amounts of data their particle physics scientific research was going to produce. The Large Hadron Collider is the contraption built at CERN used to discover the Higgs Boson; an underground ring of 17 miles in diameter inside which particles zoom by at the speed of light and collide head-to-head recreating millions of mini-Big Bangs in a lab like the big one when our universe was created. The CERN scientists have continuously analyzed these collisions for years  and one of the ejected materials recently found was finally the elusive Higgs Boson. Eureka!

The scientists back then knew that to analyze this data they needed to break out of the data silos they all had at the time since their computers were not “connected” to each other. By creating a connected platform they were able to augment the data-crunching capacity and to get as many scientists on the same page as possible. Just like the space race brought us advances on new technologies like scratchproof glass, cordless tools and dry ice cream in a bag; the search for the Higgs Boson has advanced all of humanity by connecting our world on the web. Following a proposal by the scientist, a British fellow named Timothy Berners-Lee, they came up with the two revolutionary concepts: the Web browser and hypertext language.

Now these are things we all get and understand; we used them daily! In essence, these are the tools that created the World Wide Web as we know it today. Browsers like Microsoft Explorer, Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari are the windows we use to travel on the Web and Hypertext or HTML is nothing less than the language used to create links on the Web; you know, the often highlighted blue text and hot links we all click on while browsing the Web.

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, yes my Lords, he is a bona fide Knight of the British Monarchy (or TimBL as his friends on the Web know him) is indeed a cool fellow who is going to go down in history right next to Gutenberg and Marconi. He created the language for all our computers, tablets and smartphones to do a handshake that is so smooth, we hardly ever even think about the science, ingenuity and research that was needed it to make it so easy for us to connect an iPhone to an online parts catalog to search for a clutch on the fly over the Web.

Just a few weeks ago, millions of us Earthlings had the opportunity to meet TimBL firsthand during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London. Remember him? No, he was the centerpiece of the segment called “Frankie and June say ... thanks Tim” which highlighted British popular culture. This was the section were they retold the old age story of boy meets girl with a tech slant (and a killer classic British rock soundtrack that pumped me full of memories). It was a fitting ceremony for TimBL and in the spirit of sharing that have characterized the WWW from its inception, good old Sir Tim used his Twitter account to share live a simple message to all of us: “This is for everyone.” That message was seen by a TV audience that peaked at more than 26 million viewers.

Sometimes science works in mysterious ways. I was delighted to learn more about TimBL, hypertext and browsers, even though I’m still like the proverbial fish out of water understanding the Higgs Boson. All the more reason to abandon my particle physicists’ dreams and refocus my energy on selling more auto parts using the World Wide Web, Jolly Good, Old Mate.

 Mandy Aguilar is a regional vice president for Jacksonville, Fla.-based The Parts House. Visit his blog at www.mandyaguilar.com.















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