Deserved honour

The award of the Nobel Prize for physics for Britain’s Peter Higgs and Belgium’s Francois Englert, who had predicted the existence of a subatomic particle, which came to called the Higgs boson, was widely expected.

The Swedish Academy has the habit of springing surprises but the two physicists’ claim became overwhelming after their formulations were vindicated by experiments conducted at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) laboratory near Geneva last year. It has taken five decades for the scientists’ discovery to be recognised with the Nobel honour. CERN’s  particle smasher Large Hadron Collider found the elusive particle last year through complicated experiments after years of search involving scientists from all over the world.

The Higgs boson, also known as the God particle for its elusiveness and importance in the cosmic scheme of things, is esoteric but became well-known after the CERN experiments started. The idea of the Higgs boson is fundamental to cosmology because it is this particle that gives mass to everything in the universe. Without the Higgs field, with which the particle is associated, elementary particles would only keep travelling at the speed of light without forming the universe as we know it with stars, planets, atoms and us. As the Swedish Academy noted in its citation, the Higgs boson is among the building blocks of the universe. It was the last missing element in what scientists call the standard model which explains the working of the universe. The discovery has been compared with most other seminal theoretical insights about the origin and existence of the universe.
The award is also a recognition of the concerted international efforts that went into the building of the CERN lab which confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson. There is even a view that the prize should have gone to CERN also. But the original work was done by the two scientists and CERN’s achievement was secondary to it. In fact there were other scientists also who had independently theorised on the possible existence of the particle.

The award would also have gone to Engelbert’s associate, Robert Brout, if he had been alive. The Nobel prize is awarded only to living persons or organisations existing now. Higgs has acknowledged the contributions of others to the discovery and rightly underlined the value of basic research in the expansion of knowledge.

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