God particle’s Nobel prospects

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On July 4, scientists announced that they had discovered a new particle, God particle, that may be the fabled 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 that will decide this Tuesday's Nobel Prize for Physics. Historic though it is, does the announcement deserve the award? And if so, who should get it?

Named after British physicist Peter Higgs, the boson is a key to our 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.

But whether it will unlock the great prize is unclear. Some Nobel-watchers are cautious, given that the new particle has not yet been officially sealed as the Higgs.

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 groundshaking announcement.

Other contributors

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 each other back in 1964.

The first were Belgians Robert Brout, who died last year, and Francois Englert. This was followed by Higgs, who was the first to say only a new particle would explain the anomalies of mass.

Then came a trio of Americans Dick Hagen and Gerry Guralnik and Briton Tom Kibble. 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 each other. The jury has to decide whether theoreticians or experimentalists -- or both -- should get the glory.AFP



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