Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Higgs Particle Has No Special Relationship To the Lord, Scientists Say.

Nobody really calls the Higgs the "God Particle" except for desperate science writers. What a god-awful term! Even Higgs the cat is fed up.

Higgs Particle Has No Special Relationship To the Lord, Scientists Say.


Today scientists revealed the first major results from the biggest, most elaborate scientific apparatus ever built – the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. True to predictions, they reported hints of a long-sought particle called the Higgs. You can read more in this news story. I worked really hard on this story. I talked to all kinds of people and hung out with the physicists at Penn, but my story won't get on the front page because I refuse to use the god-awful term "God particle".  

Physicist don't call the Higgs the God particle.  That “nickname” comes from the title of a 1993 book by Nobel winning physicist Leon Lederman. Lederman took a lot of criticism for calling his book, “The God Particle.” (though it was undoubtedly good for sales)

As part of my research for my story I read a more recent book on the Higgs search, Massive, by British journalist Ian Sample. It's very readable and informative, and he does a great job of weaving together current science and history, but what I found a little weird was that in one of the editions of his book, he used the subtitle, "The Search for the God Particle," and yet he has this to say about Lederman’s abuse of the Lord's name:

“The nickname ranks as one of the most, if not them most, derided in the history of physics. Working scientists rant aloud about how profoundly dreadful a name it is. Some say it is just plain lame.”

Since then Lederman has been quoted saying he now realizes that title offended two groups of people – those who believe in God and those who don’t believe in God.

Higgs is a great name. It comes from physicist Peter Higgs, who devised a theory back in 1964 that predicted the existence of the Higgs particle. Several other scientists had come up with nearly the same idea independently, and they may share a Nobel Prize, but Higgs was the name that stuck. So it seems in all likelihood there is a Higgs particle, or maybe more than one, but they don't have any closer relationship to the almightly than any other particle.

Higgs is also the name of the adorable cat above. When I first adopted him, my editor suggested I name him after a famous scientist and started rattling off names – Einstein, Fermi, Heisenberg, Oppenheimer….Higgs. It had to be Higgs. His ego is big enough without any suggestions that he's the God Cat.     


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About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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