Higgs boson a no-win situation for Nobel prize committee

Nobel Prize goes to Francois Englert and Peter W. Higgs

Updated: The Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to Francois Englert and Peter W. Higgs:





Rex Features/CP

On the eve of the awards science writer Kate Lunau explained why identifying who should get credit for the discovery would not be easy: 

Last year’s discovery of the Higgs boson particle has been hailed as the greatest scientific discovery in decades — our generation’s moon landing.

On Oct. 8, when the Nobel Prize in Physics is announced, many will consider it a travesty if the Higgs isn’t recognized.

And yet deciding who, exactly, should get credit for pinpointing the “God particle” may prove almost as impossible as finding the subatomic speck in the first place.

The Higgs particle is a tiny bump in an invisible force field that stretches through the universe, giving mass to elementary particles. Without it, we wouldn’t exist. The particle was famously dreamed up by the University of Edinburgh’s Peter Higgs, in 1964, and went on to bear his name. But something must have been in the air, because five other theorists published similar ideas around the same time. (Belgian physicist Robert Brout died in 2011.)

The Higgs particle, which completes the famous Standard Model of Physics, became the subject of the biggest scientific hunt ever undertaken: four decades of search, culminating with the massive experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, CERN’s powerful underground particle accelerator. There, thousands of scientists (including many Canadians) observed particles slamming together at nearly the speed of light, then sifted through reams of data for telltale patterns suggesting a Higgs had briefly appeared before vanishing again.

That puts the number of people involved in the Higgs search and discovery at thousands.

The Nobel Prize in Physics can be shared by three at most, still fewer than even the five surviving theorists who conceived it.

Related feature: The Higgs boson discovery changes everything.

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