Higgs–Kibble mechanism

In particle physics, the Higgs mechanism is essential to explain the generation mechanism of the property "mass". This is a most-important property of almost all elementary particles.[1]

According to this theory, particles gain mass by interacting with the so-called Higgs field that permeates all space. More precisely, the Higgs mechanism endows the three so-called gauge bosons Z, W+ and W- with mass. These particles would otherwise be massless; but actually they are very heavy, with values around 80 GeV/c2. But also more common particles are endowed with mass by this mechanism, e.g. the simple electron, or the quark constituents of, e.g., protons, technically through spontaneous symmetry breaking, where, however, due to the specific form of the symmetry breaking (see below), instead of the usual transverse Nambu–Goldstone bosons a longitudinal so-called Higgs-boson appears.

The simplest implementation of the mechanism adds an extra Higgs field to the gauge theory. The specific spontaneous symmetry breaking of the underlying local symmetry, which is similar to that one appearing in the theory of superconductivity, triggers conversion of the longitudinal field component to the Higgs-boson, which interacts with itself and (at least of part of) the other fields in the theory, so as to produce mass terms for the above-mentioned three gauge bosons, and also to the above-mentioned fermions (see below).

In the Standard Model, the phrase "Higgs mechanism" refers specifically to the generation of masses for the W±, and Z weak gauge bosons through electroweak symmetry breaking.[2] The Large Hadron Collider at CERN announced results consistent with the Higgs particle on July 4, 2012 but stressed that further testing is needed to confirm the Standard Model.

The mechanism was proposed in 1962 by Philip Warren Anderson. The relativistic model was developed in 1964 by three independent groups: by Robert Brout and François Englert; by Peter Higgs; and by Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, and Tom Kibble.

The Higgs mechanism is therefore also called the Brout–Englert–Higgs mechanism or Englert–Brout–Higgs–Guralnik–Hagen–Kibble mechanism,[3] Anderson–Higgs mechanism,[4] Higgs–Kibble mechanism by Abdus Salam[5] and ABEGHHK'tH mechanism [for Anderson, Brout, Englert, Guralnik, Hagen, Higgs, Kibble and 't Hooft] by Peter Higgs.[5]

On October 8, 2013, it was announced that Peter Higgs and François Englert share the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of the mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider".[6]

Standard model

The Higgs mechanism was incorporated into modern particle physics by Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam, and is an essential part of the standard model.

In the standard model, at temperatures high enough that electroweak symmetry is unbroken, all elementary particles are massless. At a critical temperature the Higgs field becomes tachyonic, the symmetry is spontaneously broken by condensation, and the W and Z bosons acquire masses. (EWSB, ElectroWeak Symmetry Breaking, is an abbreviation used for this.)

Fermions, such as the leptons and quarks in the Standard Model, can also acquire mass as a result of their interaction with the Higgs field, but not in the same way as the gauge bosons.

Structure of the Higgs field

In the standard model, the Higgs field is an SU(2) doublet, a complex spinor with four real components (or equivalently with two complex components). Its (weak hypercharge) U(1) charge is 1. That means that it transforms as a spinor under SU(2). Under U(1) rotations, it is multiplied by a phase, which thus mixes the real and imaginary parts of the complex spinor into each other—so this is not the same as two complex spinors mixing under U(1) (which would have eight real components between them), but instead is the spinor representation of the group U(2).

The Higgs field, through the interactions specified (summarized, represented, or even simulated) by its potential, induces spontaneous breaking of three out of the four generators ("directions") of the gauge group SU(2) × U(1): three out of its four components would ordinarily amount to Goldstone bosons, if they were not coupled to gauge fields.

However, after symmetry breaking, these three of the four degrees of freedom in the Higgs field mix with the three W and Z bosons (

  1. redirect ,
  2. redirect and
  3. redirect ), and are only observable as spin components of these weak bosons, which are now massive; while the one remaining degree of freedom becomes the Higgs boson—a new scalar particle.

The photon as the part that remains massless

The gauge group of the electroweak part of the standard model is SU(2) × U(1). The group SU(2) is all 2-by-2 unitary matrices; all the orthonormal changes of coordinates in a complex two dimensional vector space.

Rotating the coordinates so that the second basis vector points in the direction of the Higgs boson makes the vacuum expectation value of H the spinor (0, v). The generators for rotations about the x, y, and z axes are by half the Pauli matrices σx, σy, and σz, so that a rotation of angle θ about the z-axis takes the vacuum to

(0, v e^{-i\theta/2}).

While the Tx and Ty generators mix up the top and bottom components of the spinor, the Tz rotations only multiply each by opposite phases. This phase can be undone by a U(1) rotation of angle θ. Consequently, under both an SU(2) Tz-rotation and a U(1) rotation by an amount θ, the vacuum is invariant.

This combination of generators

Q = T_z + \frac{Y}{2}

defines the unbroken part of the gauge group, where Tz is the generator of rotations around the z-axis in the SU(2) and Y is the hypercharge generator of the U(1). This combination of generators (a z rotation in the SU(2) and a simultaneous U(1) rotation by half the angle) preserves the vacuum, and defines the unbroken gauge group in the standard model, namely the electric charge group. The part of the gauge field in this direction stays massless, and amounts to the physical photon.

Consequences for fermions

In spite of the introduction of spontaneous symmetry breaking, the mass terms oppose the chiral gauge invariance. For these fields the mass terms should always be replaced by a gauge-invariant "Higgs" mechanism. One possibility is some kind of "Yukawa coupling" (see below) between the fermion field ψ and the Higgs field Φ, with unknown couplings Gψ, which after symmetry breaking (more precisely: after expansion of the Lagrange density around a suitable ground state) again results in the original mass terms, which are now, however (i.e. by introduction of the Higgs field) written in a gauge-invariant way. The Lagrange density for the "Yukawa" interaction of a fermion field ψ and the Higgs field Φ is

\mathcal{L}_{\mathrm{Fermion}}(\phi, A, \psi) = \overline{\psi} \gamma^{\mu} D_{\mu} \psi + G_{\psi} \overline{\psi} \phi \psi,

where again the gauge field A only enters Dμ (i.e., it is only indirectly visible). The quantities γμ are the Dirac matrices, and Gψ is the already-mentioned "Yukawa" coupling parameter. Already now the mass-generation follows the same principle as above, namely from the existence of a finite expectation value |\langle\phi\rangle |, as described above. Again, this is crucial for the existence of the property "mass".

History of research


Spontaneous symmetry breaking offered a framework to introduce bosons into relativistic quantum field theories. However, according to Goldstone's theorem, these bosons should be massless.[7] The only observed particles which could be approximately interpreted as Goldstone bosons were the pions, which Yoichiro Nambu related to chiral symmetry breaking.

A similar problem arises with Yang–Mills theory (also known as nonabelian gauge theory), which predicts massless spin-1 gauge bosons. Massless weakly interacting gauge bosons lead to long-range forces, which are only observed for electromagnetism and the corresponding massless photon. Gauge theories of the weak force needed a way to describe massive gauge bosons in order to be consistent.


The mechanism was proposed in 1962 by Philip Warren Anderson,[8] who discussed its consequences for particle physics but did not work out an explicit relativistic model. The relativistic model was developed in 1964 by three independent groups – Robert Brout and François Englert;[9] Peter Higgs;[10] and Gerald Guralnik, Carl Richard Hagen, and Tom Kibble.[11][12][13] The mechanism is closely analogous to phenomena previously discovered by Yoichiro Nambu involving the "vacuum structure" of quantum fields in superconductivity.[14] A similar but distinct effect (involving an affine realization of what is now recognized as the Higgs field), known as the Stueckelberg mechanism, had previously been studied by Ernst Stueckelberg.

These physicists discovered that when a gauge theory is combined with an additional field that spontaneously breaks the symmetry group, the gauge bosons can consistently acquire a nonzero mass. In spite of the large values involved (see below) this permits a gauge theory description of the weak force, which was independently developed by Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam in 1967. Higgs's original article presenting the model was rejected by Physics Letters. When revising the article before resubmitting it to Physical Review Letters, he added a sentence at the end,[15] mentioning that it implies the existence of one or more new, massive scalar bosons, which do not form complete representations of the symmetry group; these are the Higgs bosons.

The three papers by Brout and Englert; Higgs; and Guralnik, Hagen, and Kibble were each recognized as "milestone letters" by Physical Review Letters in 2008.[16] While each of these seminal papers took similar approaches, the contributions and differences among the 1964 PRL symmetry breaking papers are noteworthy. All six physicists were jointly awarded the 2010 J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics for this work.[17]

Benjamin W. Lee is often credited with first naming the "Higgs-like" mechanism, although there is debate around when this first occurred.[18][19][20] One of the first times the Higgs name appeared in print was in 1972 when Gerardus 't Hooft and Martinus J. G. Veltman referred to it as the "Higgs–Kibble mechanism" in their Nobel winning paper.[21][22]


The Higgs mechanism occurs whenever a charged field has a vacuum expectation value. In the nonrelativistic context, this is the Landau model of a charged Bose–Einstein condensate, also known as a superconductor. In the relativistic condensate, the condensate is a scalar field, and is relativistically invariant.

Landau model

The Higgs mechanism is a type of superconductivity which occurs in the vacuum. It occurs when all of space is filled with a sea of particles which are charged, or, in field language, when a charged field has a nonzero vacuum expectation value. Interaction with the quantum fluid filling the space prevents certain forces from propagating over long distances (as it does in a superconducting medium; e.g., in the Ginzburg–Landau theory).

A superconductor expels all magnetic fields from its interior, a phenomenon known as the Meissner effect. This was mysterious for a long time, because it implies that electromagnetic forces somehow become short-range inside the superconductor. Contrast this with the behavior of an ordinary metal. In a metal, the conductivity shields electric fields by rearranging charges on the surface until the total field cancels in the interior. But magnetic fields can penetrate to any distance, and if a magnetic monopole (an isolated magnetic pole) is surrounded by a metal the field can escape without collimating into a string. In a superconductor, however, electric charges move with no dissipation, and this allows for permanent surface currents, not just surface charges. When magnetic fields are introduced at the boundary of a superconductor, they produce surface currents which exactly neutralize them. The Meissner effect is due to currents in a thin surface layer, whose thickness, the London penetration depth, can be calculated from a simple model (the Ginzburg–Landau theory).

This simple model treats superconductivity as a charged Bose–Einstein condensate. Suppose that a superconductor contains bosons with charge q. The wavefunction of the bosons can be described by introducing a quantum field, ψ, which obeys the Schrödinger equation as a field equation (in units where the reduced Planck constant, ħ, is set to 1):

i{\partial \over \partial t} \psi = {(\nabla - iqA)^2 \over 2m} \psi.

The operator ψ(x) annihilates a boson at the point x, while its adjoint ψ creates a new boson at the same point. The wavefunction of the Bose–Einstein condensate is then the expectation value ψ of ψ(x), which is a classical function that obeys the same equation. The interpretation of the expectation value is that it is the phase that one should give to a newly created boson so that it will coherently superpose with all the other bosons already in the condensate.

When there is a charged condensate, the electromagnetic interactions are screened. To see this, consider the effect of a gauge transformation on the field. A gauge transformation rotates the phase of the condensate by an amount which changes from point to point, and shifts the vector potential by a gradient:

 \psi &\rightarrow e^{iq\phi(x)} \psi \\
    A &\rightarrow A + \nabla \phi.


When there is no condensate, this transformation only changes the definition of the phase of ψ at every point. But when there is a condensate, the phase of the condensate defines a preferred choice of phase.

The condensate wave function can be written as

\psi(x) = \rho(x)\, e^{i\theta(x)},

where ρ is real amplitude, which determines the local density of the condensate. If the condensate were neutral, the flow would be along the gradients of θ, the direction in which the phase of the Schrödinger field changes. If the phase θ changes slowly, the flow is slow and has very little energy. But now θ can be made equal to zero just by making a gauge transformation to rotate the phase of the field.

The energy of slow changes of phase can be calculated from the Schrödinger kinetic energy,

H= {1\over 2m} |{(qA+\nabla)\psi|^2},

and taking the density of the condensate ρ to be constant,

H \approx {\rho^2 \over 2m} (qA + \nabla \theta)^2.

Fixing the choice of gauge so that the condensate has the same phase everywhere, the electromagnetic field energy has an extra term,

{q^2 \rho^2 \over 2m} A^2.

When this term is present, electromagnetic interactions become short-ranged. Every field mode, no matter how long the wavelength, oscillates with a nonzero frequency. The lowest frequency can be read off from the energy of a long wavelength A mode,

E \approx (F^{\mu\nu}F_{\mu\nu}) + |D\phi|^2 + V(|\phi|)

where now the nonabelian field A is contained in D and in the tensor components F^{\mu \nu} and F_{\mu \nu} (the relation between A and those components is well-known from the Yang–Mills theory).

It is exactly analogous to the Abelian Higgs model. Now the field φ is in a representation of the gauge group, and the gauge covariant derivative is defined by the rate of change of the field minus the rate of change from parallel transport using the gauge field A as a connection.

D\phi = \partial \phi - i A^k t_k \phi

Again, the expectation value of Φ defines a preferred gauge where the vacuum is constant, and fixing this gauge, fluctuations in the gauge field A come with a nonzero energy cost.

Depending on the representation of the scalar field, not every gauge field acquires a mass. A simple example is in the renormalizable version of an early electroweak model due to Julian Schwinger. In this model, the gauge group is SO(3) (or SU(2) − there are no spinor representations in the model), and the gauge invariance is broken down to U(1) or SO(2) at long distances. To make a consistent renormalizable version using the Higgs mechanism, introduce a scalar field φa which transforms as a vector (a triplet) of SO(3). If this field has a vacuum expectation value, it points in some direction in field space. Without loss of generality, one can choose the z-axis in field space to be the direction that φ is pointing, and then the vacuum expectation value of φ is (0, 0, A), where A is a constant with dimensions of mass (c = \hbar = 1).

Rotations around the z-axis form a U(1) subgroup of SO(3) which preserves the vacuum expectation value of φ, and this is the unbroken gauge group. Rotations around the x and y-axis do not preserve the vacuum, and the components of the SO(3) gauge field which generate these rotations become massive vector mesons. There are two massive W mesons in the Schwinger model, with a mass set by the mass scale A, and one massless U(1) gauge boson, similar to the photon.

The Schwinger model predicts magnetic monopoles at the electroweak unification scale, and does not predict the Z meson. It doesn't break electroweak symmetry properly as in nature. But historically, a model similar to this (but not using the Higgs mechanism) was the first in which the weak force and the electromagnetic force were unified.

Affine Higgs mechanism

Ernst Stueckelberg discovered[24] a version of the Higgs mechanism by analyzing the theory of quantum electrodynamics with a massive photon. Effectively, Stueckelberg's model is a limit of the regular Mexican hat Abelian Higgs model, where the vacuum expectation value H goes to infinity and the charge of the Higgs field goes to zero in such a way that their product stays fixed. The mass of the Higgs boson is proportional to H, so the Higgs boson becomes infinitely massive and decouples, so is not present in the discussion. The vector meson mass, however, equals to the product eH, and stays finite.

The interpretation is that when a U(1) gauge field does not require quantized charges, it is possible to keep only the angular part of the Higgs oscillations, and discard the radial part. The angular part of the Higgs field θ has the following gauge transformation law:

\theta \rightarrow \theta + e\alpha\,
A \rightarrow A + \alpha. \,

The gauge covariant derivative for the angle (which is actually gauge invariant) is:

D\theta = \partial \theta - e A.\,

In order to keep θ fluctuations finite and nonzero in this limit, θ should be rescaled by H, so that its kinetic term in the action stays normalized. The action for the theta field is read off from the Mexican hat action by substituting \phi \;=\; He^{\frac{1}{H}i\theta}.

S = \int {1 \over 4}F^2 + {1 \over 2}(D\theta)^2 = \int {1 \over 4}F^2 + {1 \over 2}(\partial \theta - He A)^2 = \int {1 \over 4}F^2 + {1 \over 2}(\partial \theta - m A)^2

since eH is the gauge boson mass. By making a gauge transformation to set θ = 0, the gauge freedom in the action is eliminated, and the action becomes that of a massive vector field:

S= \int {1 \over 4} F^2 + {1 \over 2} m^2 A^2.\,

To have arbitrarily small charges requires that the U(1) is not the circle of unit complex numbers under multiplication, but the real numbers R under addition, which is only different in the global topology. Such a U(1) group is non-compact. The field θ transforms as an affine representation of the gauge group. Among the allowed gauge groups, only non-compact U(1) admits affine representations, and the U(1) of electromagnetism is experimentally known to be compact, since charge quantization holds to extremely high accuracy.

The Higgs condensate in this model has infinitesimal charge, so interactions with the Higgs boson do not violate charge conservation. The theory of quantum electrodynamics with a massive photon is still a renormalizable theory, one in which electric charge is still conserved, but magnetic monopoles are not allowed. For nonabelian gauge theory, there is no affine limit, and the Higgs oscillations cannot be too much more massive than the vectors.

See also


Further reading

  • Schumm, Bruce A. (2004) Deep Down Things. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. Chpt. 9.

External links

  • Mark D. Roberts (1999) "A Generalized Higgs Model"
  • Sakurai Prize Videos
  • In CERN Courier, Steven Weinberg reflects on spontaneous symmetry breaking
  • Steven Weinberg on LHC
  • Gerry Guralnik speaks at Brown University about the 1964 PRL papers
  • Guralnik, Gerald (2013). "Heretical Ideas that Provided the Cornerstone for the Standard Model of Particle Physics". SPG MITTEILUNGEN March 2013, No. 39, (p. 14)
  • Steven Weinberg Praises Teams for Higgs Boson Theory
  • Physical Review Letters – 50th Anniversary Milestone Papers
  • Imperial College London on PRL 50th Anniversary Milestone Papers
  • Englert–Brout–Higgs–Guralnik–Hagen–Kibble Mechanism on Scholarpedia
  • History of Englert–Brout–Higgs–Guralnik–Hagen–Kibble Mechanism on Scholarpedia
  • The Hunt for the Higgs at Tevatron
  • UCSD physicist Kim Griest (43 minutes)
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