Few of us could master the curriculum when we were in school. Atoms, electrons, charged particles; it was a strange and alien world that few of us understood and even fewer could embrace much less master.
Yet we live in a 21st Century world that has been defined by the fundamental discoveries revealed, controlled, and directed by the laws of physics. Far more than some distant and mysterious field of study, theoretical studies that began decades ago continue to yield results that few could have foreseen, touching people around the globe.
Consider: Quantum physics was originally the study of matter and energy, the building blocks of nature. Few lay people outside of the research labs could envision any outcome from an academic debate over electrons and photons. Yet decades later, it is the legacy of quantum physics that provided the roadmap that led to personal computers, cell phones, and technology that impacts us every day.
What became apparent is that the connection between theoretical research and "real world" applications may take decades to become clear but when they do, the world around us changes.
Accordingly, we need to pay attention to the latest frontier in physics.
Scientists say that next "big thing" is the Higgs boson, a particle that was confirmed in 2012 after three decades of theoretical research. One commentator said that discovery "put the bang in the Big Bang Theory of how the universe itself came to be."
As lay people struggling to understand this subatomic world, we are told that researchers use massive colliders miles in length to accelerate particles to near the speed of light for the purpose of unraveling their mysteries of attraction and mass. Often there are surprises in store, such as how the elements of oxygen and hydrogen turn into water when they meet up with these subatomic particles.
Because of its essential role in virtually every facet of our existence, the Higgs boson has been assigned the nickname "the God Particle." The irony is that the title is apparently the sanitized version for the particle. According to published reports, it was originally labeled "the Goddamn Particle" by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was referencing his considerable frustration as to just how difficult it was to detect.
The genesis of its name aside, researchers say we cannot overestimate the role of "the God Particle" because they maintain that without its existence, no particles would have mass and without mass nothing would exist – no galaxies, stars, planets, life, or humanity.
It is no longer "theoretical" that theoretical research creates enormous scientific breakthroughs.
It may take decades, even generations, to fully appreciate the role of "the God Particle" and how to harness it. Yet if past is prologue, this subatomic entity may be the key to a world we can only imagine, creating a gateway to an unlimited future of opportunities, achievement, exploration.