The millions of bison that used to cover the plains of America posed a serious problem for the White Man's government in the late 1800s. Not only did they have the audacity to feed the Indian population, but they also had exceptionally warm coats, much too good for a simple beast, and their elastic skin was farm more suitable for the conveyor belts of the Industrial Revolution-era machines that were chugging away at full bore. A buffalo hide could net you $3.50, at a time when the average laborer brought in 50 cents a day. And they were incredibly, hideously easy to kill. The most accomplished hunters, traveling with a team of "hide men", could kill over a hundred in a day, leaving behind stinking fetid fields of steaming bone-hung organs. When the conscientious began to realize what was happening, a bill was put forward to protect the buffalo; it was promptly vetoed by General Ulysses S. Grant, so this bloody resource war against the Native Americans could continue. By 1879, the major tribes had all surrendered, and by the turn of the century, only a few hundred buffalo were left.
In 1875, General Philip Sheridan praised the hunters and hidesman before the Texas legislature: “. . . these men have done . . . more to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary. . . . Send them powder and lead, if you will; but for the sake of a lasting peace let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as a second forerunner of an advanced civilization.”
The Higgs field was first proposed in the early 1960s, and has since come to occupy the hearts and minds of physicists the world over. Named for Peter Higgs, a British physicist whose work contributed greatly to this theory, it's a simple idea: there is a field that all subatomic particles interact with, like electricity or liquid or air, that gives all particles mass; the amount of mass they have depends on the degree to which they interact with this Higgs field. And, theoretically, that field itself is made up of tiny particles, the heaviest in existence, named the Higgs boson. The particle that gives mass, that connects all things; the Force, for all you Star Wars fans, and the God Particle, as you may have heard it called in the media.
Both CERN in Switzerland and Fermilab in the United States have performed literally trillions of experiments over the past 45 years in search of this particle; in an attempt to recreate the Big Bang, on a minor scale, they send particles flying at one another over vast distances (the accelerator at CERN is 17 miles long, and Fermilab's Tevatron, which closed in 2011, is 4 miles long). The particles bust into little bits and the pieces pass through a Collider Detector, enabling scientists to read their mass. Several new particles were discovered at Fermilab, right in Chicago's backyard, although the infamous Higgs boson has remained illusive.
Until recently, maybe. Finally collating and comparing decades worth of research, CERN and Fermilab announced the existence of a new particle in July 2012, the heaviest discovered. Is it the Higgs? More tests and research is needed. Are we one step closer to unriddling God and the universe? And what happens if we do?
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