The Higgs boson by Mayank Chhaya
If I were Peter Higgs whose last name will forever adorn the name of perhaps the most coveted elementary particle, I would consider it infra dig to think that the Nobel Prize in Physics would top my contribution. One would presume a certain degree of enlightened detachment among those who operate at the level of bosons from something as worldly as a certificate, albeit an ornate one, and some cash.
It seems there is a feverish debate on in the run-up to the announcement of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics scheduled for tomorrow. The Nobel committee that decides such matters is faced with a difficult decision since Higgs was among a total of six physicists who had almost simultaneously worked on the theory that foreshadowed the existence of such an elementary particle. Of course, Higgs was the only one in 1964 to have clearly spoken of such a particle and hence the name Higgs boson.
For those of you who keep up with such esoteric physics, the Large Hadron Collider announced last July the clearest experimental confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson. Quite appropriately, Dr. Higgs was in the audience at the time.
The Nobel committee’s dilemma stems from the fact that it cannot give one prize to more than three scientists. Since the boson particle theory involves six, five of whom are alive, it is a difficult decision. That decision is compounded by whether to include the 6000 odd scientists who work on the Large Hadron Collider to confirm Higgs boson. Such dilemmas arise because humans attach for sanctity to things like awards. The Nobel committee can always be flexible and split the honor among the 6 plus 6000. It is not as if giving the Nobel Prize for Physics this year to more than three would piss off the Higgs boson so much that it would go into an epic sulk and may even cease to exist. I am pretty sure the Higgs boson would not care who wins the Nobel.
The six in question are François Englert, who published the idea of such a particle first, followed by Higgs who actually spoke of the existence of such a particle. The other four are Robert Brout, who died in 2011, Gerald Guralnik, Carl Richard Hagen and Tom Kibble. The last three published their work a month after Higgs. So all six have some claim on the boson even though it was Dr. Higgs who became synonymous and eponymous with it.
It is always amusing that while talking about something so fundamental and profound, the scientific establishment cannot extricate itself from the utter banality of a prize. I find it strange that one can be so grand and so trivial at the same time.