|"Symmetry breaking illustrated": – At high energy levels (left) the ball settles in the center, and the result is symmetrical. At lower energy levels (right), the overall "rules" remain symmetrical, but the "Mexican hat" potential comes into effect: "local" symmetry inevitably becomes broken since eventually the ball must roll one way (at random) and not another.|
The Standard Model hypothesizes a field which is responsible for this effect, called the Higgs field (symbol: ), which has the unusual property of a non-zero amplitude in its ground state; i.e., a non-zero vacuum expectation value. It can have this effect because of its unusual "Mexican hat" shaped potential whose lowest "point" is not at its "centre". Below a certain extremely high energy level the existence of this non-zero vacuum expectation spontaneously breaks electroweak gauge symmetry which in turn gives rise to the Higgs mechanism and triggers the acquisition of mass by those particles interacting with the field. This effect occurs because scalar field components of the Higgs field are "absorbed" by the massive bosons as degrees of freedom, and couple to the fermions via Yukawa coupling, thereby producing the expected mass terms. In effect when symmetry breaks under these conditions, the Goldstone bosons that arise interact with the Higgs field (and with other particles capable of interacting with the Higgs field) instead of becoming new massless particles, the intractable problems of both underlying theories "neutralise" each other, and the residual outcome is that elementary particles acquire a consistent mass based on how strongly they interact with the Higgs field. It is the simplest known process capable of giving mass to the gauge bosons while remaining compatible with gauge theories. Its quantum would be a scalar boson, known as the Higgs boson.
|The potential for the Higgs field, plotted as function of and . It has a Mexican-hat or champagne-bottle profile at the ground.|