Higgs Boson is Not the So-Called "God Particle"


Scientists once again think they may have found the Higgs boson as they continue smashing away at the Large Hadron Collider on the French-Swiss border. You likely have heard the Higgs boson referred to as "The God Particle." Sorry to ruin the fun, but some physicists really wish people would cut that out.

In the early 1990s two atheists, physicist Leon Lederman and writer Dick Teresi, began drafting a book. In 2006 the two publishedThe God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? exploring the Higgs boson as an element that might be at the core of everything else in the universe.

Adam Frank of 13.7 explains that "The Higgs is the final piece of the Standard Model of Particle Physics which is, itself, the crowning achievement of subatomic physics. Called the 'God Particle' by some, the Higgs is responsible for giving all the other flecks of matter in this Universe the remarkable property we think of as mass. Physicists have been hunting the Higgs for decades."

When confronted about the book’s title on NPR’s All Things Considered, Teresi explains he is willing to take the fall for this one. Teresi’s pulled the idea from Lederman’s lecture notes, thinking it highly unlikely the editor would go with the pitch. 

The Poynter Institute dug into the messy reporting the book’s title has resulted in for journalists. Apparently Leon Lederman addressed the title of the book in his paper The Tale of Two Particles and the Ultimate T-Shirt by stating outright, "One, the publisher wouldn’t let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing. And two, there is a connection, of sorts, to another book, a much older one… " The older book Lederman mentions is the Bible. 

To be fair, there is an argument for author Teresi’s desire to use a catchy title other than Higgs boson to attract the attention of the public. Last year a hipster crowd in Brooklyn was caught in the dark when approached and asked about the Higgs boson.  In response to Vice’s guerrilla pop quiz about the particle, responders guessed it to be an art installation, a band or a famous German architect.