How is it possible to collide two protons and get a Higgs boson? Is there a Higgs boson hiding inside the proton somewhere?
Well, no. But a very interesting thing about colliding particles in this manner is that it doesn’t work the way we see collisions work in the macro world. It’s as if we were to collide two 18-wheeler trucks, and instead of fragments of steel and glass — instead of pieces of truck — we see bicycles, station wagons, skate boards, and wheelchairs making up the wreckage.
And it gets even better because the wreckage produced isn’t determined by the particles we collide. We can have within the wreckage any particle that is the mass-equivalent of the energy of the collision. So it is entirely possible that we can collide two tricycles with enough speed that the energy of the collision will produce an 18-wheeler. So with sufficient energy, we can produce any particle in nature just by colliding two protons together.
And about that energy: the LHC requires an entire city’s worth of electrical energy to operate. We toss about huge numbers — over a hundred billion electron volts — and we are in awe of what we’ve accomplished.
So how much energy are we really talking about? The LHC speeds up protons so they have the same kinetic energy as a single raindrop.
This is both impressively large and impressively small. When you think about the difference in mass between a proton and a raindrop, this is a mind-boggling increase in energy, worthy of the numbers and power production we have devoted to it. But when you think about the absolute amount of energy involved, it is literally a drop in a bucket.