Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Peter Higgs: In His Own Words

Here's a fascinating interview with the man of the moment, Peter Higgs.

1. He got into theoretical physics because he was "incompetent" as an experimentalist:

That sort of set the scene for me and when I chose to go to university, which was Kings College London, I continued to show all sorts of symptoms of incompetence in the lab while I was a student there. So very early on, I was heading towards the theoretical end of physics as the only kind of thing I was competent in.

2. He thinks that the field that has been named after him should have been called the Goldstone field instead:

It shouldn't be a Higgs field. If it's anybody's it should be Goldstone field, I think. When Nambu wrote his short paper in 1960, Jeffrey Goldstone of Cambridge University, who was visiting Cern, heard about it. He then wrote a paper which was conceptually similar to what Nambu had done, but a simpler model.

3. He doesn't like the name "god particle". In fact, I know of no physicist who does!

That name was a kind of joke, and not a very good one. An author, Leon Lederman, wanted to call it 'that goddamn particle' because it was clear it was going to be a tough job finding it experimentally. His editor wouldn't have that, and he said 'okay, call it the God particle', and the editor accepted it. I don't think he should've have done, because it's so misleading.

4. He thinks, as I concur, that the LHC should have sold itself in a broader term, rather than being popularized as a machine to look for the Higgs. As I've said many times, no one and no institution would fund something THIS expensive just to do ONE thing.

I was a bit unhappy about the way it was being sold. Not because I didn't think they should go after the Higgs Boson, of course, but I thought they should have educated people more about the breadth of the programme of the machine, and not concentrated on this so much. It seemed to me they were taking a risk that when they found the thing, then a lot of people would say 'oh well, that's it, isn't it? Why do we still want this machine?

5. His reaction to the announcement at CERN that the Higgs might have been found:

I didn't accept it was me that they were cheering. I regarded it as cheers for the home team, as at a football match, and the home team were the two experiments, Atlas and CMS, with 1,500 members each. That's what it was really about. Maybe they were cheering me too but that was a minor issue.
Don't miss an earlier spotlight on Peter Higgs that has a bit more in-depth coverage of the history leading up to the formulation of the Higgs field.


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