Tahlequah Daily Press

Get the scoop!

October 8, 2013

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

WASHINGTON — The entire physics community anticipated Tuesday that Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences would bestow a Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of the Higgs boson, the elusive subatomic particle that plays a crucial role in the fabric of the universe. But who, exactly, would get the honor? The aging theorists who dreamed it up back in 1964? Or the mostly younger experimentalists who last year said they'd found it?

The academy went with the theorists — two of them, at least. The new Nobel laureates are 84-year-old Englishman Peter Higgs, after whom the particle is named, and Francois Englert, 80, of Belgium. That left out in the cold several other theorists who could plausibly claim to have deserved the honor as well.

Englert materialized by voice Tuesday morning in a teleconference after the announcement in Stockholm and did not sound particularly surprised as he answered a few questions about enduring unknowns in physics (dark energy, dark matter, quantum gravity). But a Nobel committee official said no one had been able to reach Higgs, despite multiple phone calls. The committee had also emailed him the news.

"I am overwhelmed to receive this award," Higgs said in a statement released by the University of Edinburgh. "I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research."

The Higgs boson, once dubbed by scientist Leon Lederman as "the God particle," is associated with an invisible field that is part of the basic infrastructure of the cosmos. The mass of particles is determined by how they interact with this field.

The Nobel committee said it gave the prize to Englert and Higgs "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of 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."

Rarely has a Nobel Prize announcement arrived with so much hype and anticipation. Everyone in the physics community knew that the prize could go to someone involved with the Higgs particle. It was as if the prize would be the final validation of the discovery, which was announced on July 4, 2012.

"This is great for physics. It's great for science. The story is fantastic," said Michael Turner, president of the American Physical Society. "They answered a question that's so simple and so basic that few people asked it — why do things have mass?"

"These gentlemen did this work in 1964, and they had to wait half a century to see it come to fruition," said Fred Dylla, executive director of the American Institute of Physics. "The Nobel committee has done a very fair job on a very difficult decision."

Lisa Randall, a Harvard physicist and author of the book "Higgs Discovery," said the prize was well-deserved and noted the "heroic efforts" of the experimentalists who found the particle.

More questions about the Higgs remain to be answered, she said: "Looking forward, we want to know the resolution to the so-called hierarchy problem, the question of why the Higgs boson isn't 16 orders of magnitude heavier, as our theory of quantum mechanics and special relativity would predict."

Although the physics community expected that the prize would recognize, in some fashion, the discovery of the Higgs particle, no one knew how the Nobel committee would apportion the credit. Without the experimental work, no one today would likely be talking about the theories of the 1960s. But the efforts at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN involved thousands of scientists and engineers, including many from the United States.

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.

1
Text Only
Get the scoop!
  • Affirmative action ruling challenges colleges seeking diversity

    The U.S. Supreme Court's support of Michigan's ban on race-based affirmative action in university admissions may spur colleges to find new ways to achieve diversity without using racial preferences.

    April 23, 2014

  • The waffle taco's biggest enemy isn't McDonald's. It's consumer habits.

    Gesturing to Taco Bell, Thompson said McDonald's had "not seen an impact relative to the most recent competitor that entered the [breakfast] space," and that new competition would only make McDonald's pursue breakfast more aggressively.

    April 23, 2014

  • Cuba is running out of condoms

    The newest item on Cuba's list of dwindling commodities is condoms, which are now reportedly in short supply. In response, the Cuban government has approved the sale of expired condoms.

    April 23, 2014

  • A 'wearable robot' helps her walk again

    Science is about facts, numbers, laws and formulas. To be really good at it, you need to spend a lot of time in school. But science is also about something more: dreaming big and helping people.

    April 23, 2014

  • In cuffs... 'Warlock' in West Virginia accused of sexual assault

    Police in West Virginia say a man claiming to be a “warlock” used promises of magical spells to lure children into committing sexual acts with him.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • The top 12 government programs ever

    Which federal programs and policies succeed in being cost-effective and targeting those who need them most? These two tests are obvious: After all, why would we spend taxpayers' money on a program that isn't worth what it costs or helps those who do not need help?

    April 22, 2014

  • Cats outsmart the researchers

    I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone - anyone - who studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement, laughed over the phone to me by one of the world's top animal cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám Miklósi.

    April 22, 2014

  • Trials of the Cherokee reflected in their skulls, researchers say

    Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee have found that environmental stressors – from the Trail of Tears to the Civil War – led to significant changes in the shape of skulls in the eastern and western bands of the Cherokee people. The findings highlight the role of environmental factors in shaping our physical characteristics.

    April 22, 2014

  • McCain 1 House Republicans are more active on Twitter than Democrats

    Your representative in the House is almost certainly on Twitter. Your senator definitely is. But how are they using the social network? Are Democrats more active than Republicans, or vice versa? Who has the most followers on the Hill?

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Do your genes make you procrastinate?

    Procrastinators, in my experience, like nothing better than explaining away their procrastination: General busyness, fear of failure, and simple laziness are just a handful of the excuses and theories often tossed around. Now researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have added another option to the list: genetics.

    April 21, 2014

  • Do White Castle prices tell us anything about the minimum wage?

    The paper looked at how many delicious steamed sliders the minimum wage has been able to purchase over time. The point is that as it notes, in 1981, the $3.35 minimum could buy a whole dozen. Today, at $7.25, it could purchase just 10.

    April 21, 2014

  • Can Hillary Clinton rock the cradle and the world?

    What's most interesting to contemplate is the effect becoming a grandmother will have on Hillary's ambition. It's one of life's unfairnesses that a woman's peak career years often coincide with her peak childbearing years.

    April 21, 2014

  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 18, 2014

  • Why do wolves howl?

    Of all the myths that dog the wolf, none is more widely accepted than the idea that wolves howl at the moon. Images of wolves with their heads upturned, singing at the night sky, are as unquestioned as a goldfish's three-second memory or a dog's color-blindness (both also myths).

    April 18, 2014

  • Biggest student loan profits come from grad students

    This week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal government would earn roughly $127 billion from student lending during the next 10 years.

    April 18, 2014

Poll

How confident are you that the immunizations for infants and children are reasonably safe?

Not at all confident.
Somewhat confident.
Relatively confident.
Extremely confident.
undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher Video Shows Possible Syrian Gas Attack Cubs Superfans Celebrate Wrigley's 100th Raw: Cattle Truck Overturns in Texas Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming Raw: Erupting Volcanoes in Guatemala and Peru Alibaba IPO Could Be Largest Ever for Tech Firm FBI Joining Probe of Suburban NY 'Swatting' Call U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Raw: Violence Erupts in Rio Near Olympic Venue Raw: Deadly Bombing in Egypt Raw: What's Inside a Commercial Jet Wheel Well Raw: Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit Raw: Anti-Obama Activists Fight Manila Police Motels Near Disney Fighting Homeless Problem Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye' S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers
Stocks