'God particle' and the Indian connection

The release on Wednesday of dramatic new data pointing to the existence of the Higgs Boson, nicknamed as the ‘God particle’ sent a special flutter of pride, mixed with frustration, through India’s scientific community.

Eureka we found it! Professor Peter Higgs hugs a member of the panel and wipes a tear from his eye after the announcement was made. Pic/AFP

The ‘Higgs’ of Higgs Boson is well known to refer to Peter Higgs, the British researcher who in 1964 laid much of the conceptual groundwork for the presence of the elusive particle. What is largely unknown, at least to non-specialists, is that the term ‘Boson’ owes its name to the pioneering work of the late Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose. Born during British colonial rule in 1894 in Kolkata, Bose was a lecturer at both the universities of Calcutta and Dhaka.

Man behind the particle: Satyendra Nath Bose

In 1924, he sent a paper to Albert Einstein describing a statistical model that eventually led to the discovery of what became known as the Bose-Einstein condensate phenomenon. The paper laid the basis for describing the two fundamental classes of sub-atomic particles — bosons, named after Bose, and fermions, after the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi.

While several Nobel prizes have been awarded to research related to the concepts of the boson, Bose himself was never honoured by the Nobel academy. Archan Majumdar, an astrophysicist at the eponymous Satyendra Nath Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences in Kolkata, said Bose’s name would be better known if his discoveries hadn’t been made during the colonial era.

“If India had been an independent nation he could have got more recognition than he has,” Majumdar said. “Also, if he had the Nobel prize which he deserved more than many others he would have been more known, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.”

Momentous day
The discovery is the biggest leap in physics for decades — filling in a crucial gap in our understanding of the atom. In the long term, the discovery could lead to new technologies. Professor John Womersley. chief executive of the Science and technology Facilities Council, said, “They have discovered a particle consistent with the Higgs boson. Discovery is the important word. That is confirmed. It’s a momentous day for science.”

Tears of joy
Professor Higgs, who first postulated the particle nearly 50 years ago, was at the announcement. The 83-year-old wiped a tear from his eye as the findings were announced, and later said, “It’s really an incredible thing that it’s happened in my lifetime.”

“This is indeed a new particle,” said lab spokesman Joe Incandela. “This is something that may in the end be one of the biggest discoveries or observations of any new phenomena that we’ve had in our field in the last 30 or 40 years,” he added.

The discovery fills in the last gap in the ‘standard model’ of physics — proving Einstein right, and possibly leading to new technologies built on our understanding of the particle. 

What is the God particle?
The existence of the Higgs Boson was put forward in the 1960s to explain why the tiny particles that make up atoms have mass. The Higgs is the last missing piece of the Standard Model, the theory that describes the basic building blocks of the universe. The other 11 particles predicted by the model have been found — the Higgs is the last jigsaw piece. If the particle was shown not to exist, it would have meant tearing up the Standard Model and going back to the drawing board.

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