25 April, 2008
A portrait of Peter Higgs of ‘Higgs Boson’ fame. The Higgs boson is a (currently) hypothetical elementary particle, which, should it exist, explains how the universe gets its mass. It has been referred to as ‘The God Particle’ since it nicely ties up a lot of loose ends in quantum physics. No one has yet recorded the presence of a Higgs boson, though it is hoped the new Large Hadron Collider at CERN will be powerful enough to reveal one.
acrylic on canvas 762mm x 1062mm
The Higgs boson is a quantum component of a Higgs field – it suggests that even in a complete vacuum there’s still something ‘going on in the background’ and this stuff acts like a viscous liquid, dragging on all the other particles which gives them mass. My friend Sacha suggested a nice simile: “i remember someone explaining the hypothetical boson as a pretty girl trying to walk through a party – everyone keeps attaching themselves to her slowing her progress.”.
Peter Higgs first postulated the idea in 1964, and at once recognised it as ‘the idea of a lifetime’. However having the idea and proving it’s true via experiment is always tricky in the world of Physics. As with all things sub-atomic you never really catch a boson, you merely infer its presence by smashing some atoms together very hard and watching the interaction of the resulting particles. Maybe 2008 is the year we finally get to ‘see’ one.
Quantum Physics deals with particles too small to comprehend, doing things which make no sense – at least in terms of our common sense experience of the world. Which, to me, is what makes explanations of the quantum realm feel like magic – without something that I can reference back to my own experience and expectations, it all becomes mysterious. There is a sense of wonder and incomprehension which comes from seeing a great piece of sleight of hand, and the I get same sort of sensation when trying to rationalize particle physics with my intuitive understanding of the universe.
With these thoughts in mind I’ve painted Professor Higgs performing a conjuring trick, producing the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen from thin air. It’s not so much a painting of a boson, as a painting of the idea of a boson – a smorgasbord of scintillations.
You can of course see the painting in person when it is presented as part of MASS next week.
Below is a timelapse recording of the painting.
This is only the second time I’ve painted a living subject without having met them, the other of course being John Lydon. I trust that should Professor Higgs stumble across this page he’ll let me know what he thinks…
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