'God particle' tough Nobel call

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 4:43am


On July 4, scientists announced they had discovered a new particle that may be the Higgs boson, an exploit that would rank as the greatest achievement in physics in more than half a century.

But they also created a headache for the jury who will decide tomorrow's Nobel Prize for Physics. Historic though it is, does the announcement deserve the award?

And if so, who should get it?

The breakthrough at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) touches on the agonising quest to find the "God particle", so called for being everywhere and elusive at the same time.

Named after British physicist Peter Higgs, the boson is a key to the concept of matter, as it could explain why particles have mass. Without the Higgs, the universe as we know it would simply not exist, according to the theory.

"It's a big discovery. That's all I'm going to say," said Lars Brink, a member of the Nobel committee for physics.

Some Nobel-watchers are cautious, given that the new particle has not yet been officially sealed as the Higgs.

Scientists are almost certain it is the coveted beast, for they found it at a range of mass that fits with their calculations.

Yet they still need to confirm this, which means further work to see how it behaves and reacts with other particles. Indeed, there is a remote possibility that the new particle is not the Higgs, although this would be an even more ground-shaking announcement.

As Higgs himself readily admits, vital contributions to the theoretical groundwork were made by others. In fact, six physicists, each building on the work of others, published a flurry of papers on aspects of the theory within four months of one another back in 1964.

A further complication is that thousands of physicists worked in the two labs at Cern's Large Hadron Collider near Geneva where Higgs experiments were conducted independently of one another.