Sunday 19 November 2017

God particle discoverer has 'absolutely no idea' of its uses

Professor Peter Higgs:
scientific breakthrough
Professor Peter Higgs: scientific breakthrough

Simon Johnson

The physicist whose theories led to the discovery of the Higgs boson has admitted he has "no idea" what practical applications it could have.

Professor Peter Higgs said the so-called 'God particle', which is the building block of the universe, only has a lifespan of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second.

He refused to be drawn on whether the discovery proved there was no God, stating the name 'God particle' was a joke by another academic who originally called it the 'goddamn particle' because it was so hard to find.

The 83-year-old was giving his first detailed press interview since the discovery earlier this week of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

The Higgs boson helps to explain how fundamental particles gain their mass -- a property that allows them to bind together and form stars and planets rather than whizzing around the universe at the speed of light.

Speaking at Edinburgh University, where he published his theory about the boson's existence in 1964, he said: "It's around for a very short time.

"It's probably about a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second. I don't know how you apply that to anything useful. It's hard enough with particles, which have longer life times for decay, to make them useful.

"How you could have an application of this thing, which is very short lived, I have no idea."


But Alan Walker, a colleague from the university's school of physics and astronomy, said there had been the same uncertainty when the electron was discovered.

Prof Higgs said he never wavered in his belief that the existence of a 'God particle' would be proved in the 48 years since he first published his idea to scepticism from the scientific community.

He said he had not originally thought the particle would be discovered in his lifetime and confirmed he has been contacted by Professor Stephen Hawking, who has lost a $100 (€81) bet with another academic that it did not exist.

Prof Higgs did not gloat but said in a typically modest manner: "It's very nice to be right sometimes." He said it was unusual that a particle bear a scientist's name and suggested it be renamed simply 'H'.

It emerged that he celebrated the discovery with a can of London Pride ale but is now expected to receive a much more eminent reward, a Nobel prize for science.

However, the Nobel committee is facing a dreadful headache as there are five living scientists who contributed to the breakthrough but prizes are traditionally given to maximum of three people.

Prof Higgs refused to comment on whether convention should be relaxed, saying it was up to the committee.

Asked if he had ever had any doubts over the last 48 years, he said: "The existence of this particle is so crucial to understanding how the rest of the theory works that it was very hard for me to understand how it couldn't be there."

He added: "There's been a very long development over the years of technology and building machines of higher and higher energy. But it might have been even longer and I might not still have been around." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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