Sunday, September 07, 2008

Interna II

While my wife is busy with all kinds of last-minute preparations for the conference tomorrow, I've spent the weekend unpacking the last bunch of boxes. Normal life hopefully will resume soon, including an occasional contribution to our blog...

In the meantime, just days before the first beam is supposed to go around in the LHC, I've come across a portrait of physicist Peter Higgs very worth reading in this week's edition of the German newspaper Die Zeit, "Das Teilchen Higgs".

As most of you don't read German, never mind, it's Higgs time in British newspapers anyway: I can refer you instead to the portraits Father of the 'God Particle' by James Randerson in The Guardian of June 30, 2008 , Prof Peter Higgs interview: Smashing atoms at CERN and the hunt for the 'God' particle by Roger Highfield in the Telegraph of August 4, 2008, or The man with the answer to life, the universe and (nearly) everything by Jonathan Leake from The Sunday Times of August 17, 2008.

For a bit more technical background on the prehistory of the "Higgs boson", and the role of many other physicists played in it, check out Peter Higgs: the man behind the boson by Peter Rodgers in Physics World from July 10, 2004, which includes links to all the relevant original papers, or listen to Peter Higgs himself telling the story of My Life as a Boson (recorded on May 21, 2001 at the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics).

And, of course, Peter Higgs is also on YouTube.



  1. Hi Stefan,

    "God's particle"?! I detest all these stupid titles. They are misleading and their only purpose is to attract media's attention. How pathetic that can be. At least Higgs had nothing to do with this shame.

  2. Hi Stefan,

    Thanks for all the pointers to the Higg’s articles and background. Our Prof. Higgs seems like a very genuine and humble sort of scientist who is truly an excellent representative of the discipline. You can tell that for him science is a reward all unto itself and the journey to understanding the most important of all. So for no other reason then this I hope that the Higg’s is found shortly after the LHC is up and running.



  3. Yes, thank you Stefan for bringing this together.

    The "God Particle" is a reference point for each generation of scientists. It's an explanatory statement of what is to come for the problem solving of those next generations of students and scientist, to explore further, and an quest for attainment of the undefinable.

    Fly's eye was a case in point, as mention many times here in relation to GZK cutoff.

    Some have rallied behind Goitis sentiments without really understanding the reference point.


  4. Hi Giotis,

    "God's particle"?! I detest all these stupid titles.

    I am completely with you! I was about to include a remark about this in the post, but then I thought it's a nice topic for the comments ;-).

    Because what's interesting, the article in the Telegraph relates the story of this silly name going back to Lederman, writing: Named after Prof Peter Higgs, most physicists call the particle the Higgs boson. One Nobel laureate gave it the grandiose title of the "God particle", after his publishers refused to let him call his book "The Goddam Particle": everyone agrees that it is, without doubt, the slipperiest particle of physics.

    And the article in the Guardian explicitly states that Higgs himself is no fan of the label. "I find it embarrassing because, though I'm not a believer myself, I think it is the kind of misuse of terminology which I think might offend some people.", he is quoted.

    So, I guess the writers of these pieces are most surely well aware of how problematic this label is. Nevertheless, it's used in the headlines because it sounds more bombastic and probably is thought to sell better. At least, the label is put in quotes.

    I am convinced that the use of such pompous and hyperbolic language, either thoughtlessly or purpusefully for propaganda reasons, is an important factor in the silly current fuss about the dangers of the LHC. It's very similar to the "evolution of the Big Bang" Bee has documented so nicely.

    Hi Plato,

    The "God Particle" is a reference point for each generation of scientists.

    I don't quite get what you want to say? Do you mean, the label "God particle" is roughly the same as the ubiquitous "Holy grail"? But I don't like that label either ;-)

    Cheers, Stefan

  5. Hi Stefan,

    Holy Grail? What ever makes you feel comfortable to describe something that is "illusive," while not implying some other agenda. What would you have named it, if you had felt something so illusive? Scientists, invent names all the time.

    I always thought research was a work in progress, and have no other agenda in this regard but to historically see where the term originated, and now, when you mentioned Lederman, this rings a bell.

    As to it's origination, and not to judge whether it has some nefarious objective to overthrow science. I believe it was said innocently enough( I could be wrong and if shown this "exact point") that it by now has been blow out of proportion, seeing a few blog posts forums speak to this respectively.

    Each time I speak on this it in regards to the fly's eye. It is when I became aware of the term.

    I have no affiliation with these "disaster scenarios" other then to nail down what scientists have been saying and discountability in regards to strangelets(scientist talking to scientists) and such. I never invented the name "strangelet" either:)

    I have no other reason to persuade others to think of this terminology as anything but an "innocent term" in regards to that illusiveness.

    Oh-My-God particle

    On the evening of October 15, 1991, an ultra-high energy cosmic particle was observed over Salt Lake City, Utah. Dubbed the "Oh-My-God particle" (a play on the nickname "God particle" for the Higgs boson), it was estimated to have an energy of approximately 3 × 1020 electronvolts, equivalent to about 50 joules—in other words, it was a subatomic particle with macroscopic kinetic energy, comparable to that of a fastball, or to the mass-energy of a microbe. It was most likely a proton travelling with almost the speed of light (in the case that it was a proton its speed was approximately (1 - 4.9 × 10-24)c – after traveling one light year the particle would be only 46 nanometres behind a photon that left at the same time) and its observation was a shock to astrophysicists.

    Since the first observation, by the University of Utah's Fly's Eye 2, at least fifteen similar events have been recorded, confirming the phenomenon. The source of such high energy particles remains a mystery, especially since interactions with blue-shifted cosmic microwave background radiation limit the distance that these particles can travel before losing energy (the Greisen-Zatsepin-Kuzmin limit).

    Because of its mass the Oh-My-God particle would have experienced very little influence from cosmic electromagnetic and gravitational fields, and so its trajectory should be easily calculable. However, nothing of note was found in the estimated direction of its origin.

    You know, I might make a good target while in defence of, and seen as an opposition? ;)


  6. Bold and italicized, added by me. The evolution, to the "God particle?"

    May 3, 2006 High schools focus on the extreme universeHowever signs of the extreme-energy universe may also come in a different guise - not as a single OMG(Oh my God) event but rather as bursts of events of more-modest energy. On 20 January 1981, near Winnipeg, a cluster of 32 EASs - with an estimated mean energy of 3000 tera-electron-volts - was observed within 5 min (Smith et al. 1983). Only one such event would have been expected. This observation was the only one of its kind during an experiment that recorded 150,000 showers in 18 months. In the same year an Irish group reported an unusual simultaneous increase in the cosmic-ray shower rate at two recording stations 250 km apart (Fegan et al. 1983). The event, recorded in 1975, lasted 20 s and was the only one of its kind detected in three years of observation.


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