Sean Carroll doesn’t like the term “God particle.” In fact, it makes him a little frustrated.
“It’s simply not true,” he said. “People hear the term and think we’ve found some evidence that God exists. It’s just a marketing tool that takes us one step back when trying to explain what the Higgs boson really is.”
The Higgs boson is a long-sought particle thought to explain how other particles get their mass.
That, among other mysteries of the universe, is what Carroll is going to explain in a lecture he’s giving titled “The Particle at the End of the Universe.” The lecture will be held at UNC Charlotte during the North Carolina Science Festival April 5-21.
Carroll is a physicist at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he does research on modern physics including dark energy, cosmology and particle physics. When he’s not researching, he spends his time lecturing around the globe in an effort to break down complicated theories for the general public to understand.
“I think it’s very important for everyone to understand what physics is, partially because my field is publicly funded by the Department of Energy and NASA, and the public should know what they are paying for,” Carroll said.
Carroll began his research as a young boy in his school library, where he spent most of his time in the physics section.
“I was fascinated by the theories, but they seemed almost alien to me,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t fantasy, but reality. I didn’t understand it all, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
Carroll said that just as he did as a boy, the public wants to know where they come from, theoretically speaking.
“The universe belongs to us all,” Carroll said. “It would be a tragedy for us to find out what the universe is made of and then not tell anyone.”
Carroll said he enjoys giving lectures and feels it’s his duty as a scientist to reach out to people and explain his work.
“It’s great when you give a lecture and someone comes up to you afterwards and says they finally get it,” he said. “It’s that great ‘aha’ moment you long for as a scientist. I also think many people don’t often get the chance to meet a scientist, and it’s our job to get out there and explain the simplified essence of what we are doing.”
Although he doesn’t approve of the term “God particle,” Carroll does enjoy talking about science and religion.
“There’s no doubt that questions about the universe ultimately lead to the biggest question of them all,” he said. “Everyone wants to know, ‘Where do we come from?’ ”
He said he encourages discussion about religion and science.
“Just because we may disagree doesn’t mean there isn’t room for discussion on the consequences of modern science on deeper thought,” Carroll said.
Carroll, who appeared on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” in 2012, said pop culture is helping the reputation of physics, adding a new dynamic to his lectures.
“If you’re a scientist, oddly enough, Comedy Central is the place to be if you want to talk about your work,” he said. “Shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ are helping us by putting complicated science into a form that’s relatable to everybody.”