In the periodic table, no element is more important than another one. But in the Standard Model—a theory that explains the smallest constituents of the universe and the forces that govern them, minus gravity—the Higgs boson is arguably central. Like other elementary bosons—such as photons, the particles of light—the Higgs is a “force carrier.” Instead of carrying the electromagnetic, strong or weak force, it carries mass to all the elementary particles via the so-called Higgs field, which pervades the universe.

Particles that interact, or “couple,” strongly with the Higgs field are massive. Those that couple with it weakly are lighter. Photons do not interact with the Higgs at all. And as a result, they have no mass.

But experimentally proving that all the elementary particles that have mass get it through the Higgs field has remained difficult. Now particle physicists have, for the first time, found direct evidence that this field is the mechanism that gives mass to muons, the heavier cousins of electrons. Analyses from ATLAS and CMS, two experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva, have shown that the Higgs boson can decay into two muons—which demonstrates that muons couple with the Higgs field, where they get their mass.

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