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Higgs-Boson Isn't The "God Particle," But Is It Really The Higgs Particle, Either?

Apr 09, 2013 01:09 PM EDT
Pier Oddone of Fermilab talks during the Australian Science Media Centre background briefing on the search for the Higgs boson in Melbourne July 4, 2012. Scientists hunting the elusive subatomic "Higgs" particle will unveil findings on Wednesday that take them nearer to understanding how the Big Bang at the dawn of time gave rise to stars, planets and even life.
(Photo : REUTERS/Mal Fairclough )

When Dick Teresi proposed to his colleague Leon Lederman that they name the book they were collaborating on regarding the Higgs boson particle "the God particle," Lederman wasn't sure quite how he felt about it.

As Teresi told NPR's Melissa Block, however, at this point Teresi had published seven books and assured Lederman that publishers never accept the titles authors submit. The joke would remain between themselves.

The publishers loved it, and now, 30 years later, it's a decision Teresi, Lederman and Peter Higgs, the man who first theorized the existence of such a particle, are trying to undo.

"First of all, I'm an atheist," Higgs told a gathering in Edinburgh, according to the Daily Record. "The second thing is I know that name was a joke and not a very good one."

The reason, he said, is that he believes it's "so misleading."

As Harvard's Joao Guimaraes de Costa told The Christian Science Monitor, "The Higgs mechanism is the thing that allows us to understand how the particles acquire mass. If there was no mechanism, then everything would be massless."

This, Higgs and other scientists argue, is no proof of a higher power.

However, there is a problem, too, with the particle's real name. 

"The only person I really resent is Higgs himself, who seems to call a press conference by the hour," Teresi said on All Things Considered. "The question I would have for him is, yes, I can see why you would challenge the term "the God particle," but one also has to challenge the term Higgs-Boson because he was one of six people who proposed the idea."

What's more, as Teresi explained, it's the only major particle that the discoverer, or the theorist, has named after him or herself. 

For this reason, Teresi said, "the Higgs particle, the Higgs-Boson, is just as appropriate as 'the God particle.'"

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