The long story of how the boson got only Higgs's name

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
466,
Page:
689
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/466689b
Published online

In his review of my book Massive, Frank Close wonders how physicist Peter Higgs alone came to be associated with the elusive boson that bears his name (Nature 465, 873874; 2010).

The story, as recalled by Higgs and by colleagues of the late Korean-born physicist Benjamin Lee, is as follows. Higgs discussed his work on what became known as the Higgs mechanism with Lee over a glass of wine at a conference reception in 1967. Higgs's famous 1964 paper had been the first to draw attention to the existence of the massive boson that would become the signature particle of the mass-giving mechanism. In his discussion with Lee, Higgs did not enter into a full history of those on whose work he had built, given the informal nature of their chat.

Fast-forward to 1972, when Lee was rapporteur for the International Conference on High-Energy Physics at the National Accelerator Laboratory (now Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois. Recalling their earlier conversation, he used Higgs's name as a shorthand to describe work based on his kind of theory. From there, the name stuck and the Higgs boson was born.

Higgs openly acknowledges the contributions of others in this defining work. He opened one conference by suggesting that the Higgs mechanism should be renamed the “ABEGHHK'tH mechanism” after all of the people (Phil Anderson, Robert Brout, François Englert, Gerry Guralnik, Dick Hagen, Peter Higgs, Tom Kibble and Gerard 't Hooft) who discovered it, or rediscovered it.

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  1. Ian Sample The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU, UK
    ian.sample@guardian.co.uk

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