Professor Higgs speaks out against the name 'God particle'

CGI images of experiments to find the Higgs boson (Rex)

It may have been hailed as the Holy Grail of physics - but nicknaming the Higgs boson the “God Particle” has proved equally controversial.

The latest outburst against the term was by Professor Peter Higgs himself – the British physicist who suggested the particle's existence.

Higgs's comments come as scientists close in on final proof of the particle's existence at the Large Hadron Collider - ending a 40-year, £8.6 billion quest.

The 83-year-old, who came up with the theory while walking in the Cairngorms in 1964, said calling the Higgs boson “the God particle” was “misleading”.

“First of all, I’m an atheist,” said Professor Higgs, whose particle - which gives mass to others - was only discovered last year at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

“The second thing is, I know that name was a kind of joke and not a very good one,” he told BBC Scotland. “ I think he shouldn’t have done that as it’s so misleading.”

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Higgs has previously spoken of his dislike of the term "God particle". The term was popularised by the 1993 book "The God Particle", written by Nobel-winning physicist Leon Lederman and science writer Dick Teresi.

It has caused anger ever since - even now, when final discovery of the particle looms ever closer.

Last month, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator, said that the latest analysis "strongly indicates" that a particle discovered in their experiments is the Higgs.

The facility took 10 years to build, and has a staff of 10,000 scientists and engineers. Forbes magazine estimated that the search for the Higgs has cost £8.6 billion so far.

Physicists believe that the boson, and the energy field associated with it, were key to the formation of the universe 13.7 billion years ago - bringing together particles in the wake of the Big Bang, and helping stars and planets to form.

But the term 'God particle' has been too much for some religious people - including scientists.

Senior Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno, for example, has welcomed the confirmed existence of “God particle”, but also said it had been misnamed.

“The particle itself has nothing to do with God, or at least nothing more than any other particle of creation does, since every particle in its own way, demonstrates the beauty and subtlety (and indeed at times the sense of humour) of the Creator,” he told the Tablet, a British Catholic newspaper, last July.

Other scientists – those who don’t work for the Pope – have also criticised the use of the G-word in the Higgs boson’s nickname.

“I hate that ‘God particle’ term,” Pauline Gagnon, a Canadian “Higgs hunter” at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, told Reuters last year.

“The Higgs is not endowed with any religious meaning. It is ridiculous to call it that,” she told Reuters at a news conference after her colleagues revealed growing evidence, albeit not yet proof, of the particle’s existence.

Fellow CERN physiscist, German Oliver Buchmueller, said: “Calling it the ’God particle’ is completely inappropriate,

“It’s not doing justice to the Higgs and what we think its role in the universe is. It has nothing to do with God.”

Yet all this religious and scientific opprobrium might have been avoided if the term’s originator’s alternative nickname had not, ironically, been deemed offensive.

Once, when asked why he described he named his book The God particle, Professor   Lederman responded: “The publisher wouldn’t let us call it the Goddamn particle.”

The rejected title, which was apparently ditched to avoid riling religious Americans, was supposed to reflect frustration at the failure to find the Higgs boson at that time.

But, with the 48-year-old hunt for the God Particle – sorry, Higgs boson - now nearly over, Professor Lederman and his publishers still have a lot to answer for.

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