October 8, 2013

Higgs, Englert win Nobel Prize in physics for ‘the God particle’

The Higgs boson is associated with an invisible field that is part of the basic infrastructure of the cosmos.

By Joel Achenbach
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

In this July 2012 photo, Belgium physicist Francois Englert, left, and British physicist Peter Higgs answer journalists’ questions at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland.

The Associated Press

Turner, the APS president, said Tuesday, “Discoveries more and more involve a village. It took 10,000 people and $10 billion and 20 years to build the instrument that made this discovery, and you’d be hard pressed to narrow that group down even to 100, let alone to three.”

There were six theorists, including Englert and Higgs, who have been widely credited with the theoretical framework that led to the discovery of the new particle. Of the six, five are still alive (the Nobel cannot be awarded posthumously). The Nobels by tradition are awarded to no more than three people.

Englert published first in 1964, co-authoring a paper with Robert Brout, and was followed soon thereafter by Higgs. Brout died in 2011. The American physicist Gerald Guralnik has written an account of his own work in 1964, in collaboration with Carl Hagen and Tom Kibble.

“It stings a little,” Guralnik, a professor at Brown University, said Tuesday morning, but he did not belabor the fact that he and his two collaborators had been bypassed by the royal academy.

“I’m not surprised. It was pretty clear how this was shaping up. I would be lying if I didn’t say I’m a bit disappointed. All in all, it’s a great day for science. I’m really proud to have been associated with this work that has turned out to be so important,” Guralnik said.

Guralnik said they had arrived at their theory independently in 1964 but had been overly cautious in submitting their work for publication. With their paper already sealed in an envelope and ready to be mailed to a scientific journal, they saw pre-prints of the two papers by Englert/Brout and Higgs, and briefly added to their own paper an acknowledgment of the other theoretical work without considering it to be terribly significant or accurate.

“Frankly we didn’t even take them very seriously at the time. We thought they missed the main point,” Guralnik said.

Hagen on Tuesday did not attempt to hide his disappointment at being bypassed, and alluded to the academy’s tradition of granting a prize to no more than three people.

“Faced with a choice between their rulebook and an evenhanded judgment, the Swedes chose the rulebook,” Hagen, of the University of Rochester, said in an email. “Not a graceful concession by any means, but that department has never been my strong suit.”

“There is no question that Higgs and Englert deserve this. The only question would be how exactly they made the decision to exclude the other three,” said Mario Livio, an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

On Tuesday, the world tuned in to the Nobel Internet feed at 11:45 a.m. Stockholm time — 5:45 a.m. Eastern time — only to see an enigmatic announcement on the screen: The announcement is a few minutes delayed.

This went on for an hour. It was unclear if the delay was due to the committee’s inability to reach Higgs and tell him the news. He has previously said he would not be available for interviews in association with the prize announcement.

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