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What is Chemistry’s Version of the Higgs Boson?

It’s delightfully surprising that so much public attention was devoted to the announcement verifying the existence of the Higgs boson. Never mind that most people couldn’t give a useful explanation of this elusive entity, and even scientists are hard pressed to offer any clues to practical applications of the tiny elementary particle. The discovery is just plain fun, and excites our innate quest to unravel the hidden mysteries of the universe.

But what would be the chemistry equivalent of the Higgs? What would attract such widespread media froth and public exhilaration?

Chemistry lacks anything approaching a grand unifying theory like the so-called “standard model” of particle physics, and that needs the Higgs boson for completeness. Thus, an overarching conception that correctly predicts all manner of chemical reactions might fall in the Higgs category for sex appeal. Equally legendary, possibly, would be a full explanation of how the complex molecules of life emerged from the primordial soup of the early universe. Also conceivably rising to this challenge would be realization of a true DNA molecular computer, or the ability to coax microbes to produce on demand fuels, medicines, and nutrients that otherwise are in short supply. Allowing for the seemingly impossible, what if some scientist discovered a new element that fell between the spaces in the periodic table? That would shake things up.

Or perhaps nothing in chemistry would excite people to quite the same level of pure thrill as the Higgs boson. What say you, dear readers?

Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.

Posted In: Education

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