The Man Who Coined 'The God Particle' Explains: It Was A Joke!

Play associated audio

We've explained it many times: Physicists are irked when we in the media call the Higgs Boson, "The God Particle."

The Higgs is important because the elusive subatomic particle is believed to give everything its mass. But as Marcelo Gleiser — of NPR's 13.7 — explained, the nickname doesn't quite explain the particle because while it "does have something of a centralizing influence," it's "nothing quite divine."

It's misnomer, even stupid, some physicists say.

All Things Considered spoke to the man credited with giving the particle its moniker. In 1993, Dick Teresi co-wrote The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? with Leon Lederman, the Nobel prize winning physicist.

He told Melissa Block that the name was born out of a joke, a working title he never thought the publisher would buy.

In fact, he said, "for us being atheists, it's kind of a scary, evil kind of particle that obfuscates what's really going on."

So what does he say to his detractors?

"They protest too much," he said. In fact, the name will likely stick, he said, just like another famous deregatory term has — "The Big Bang."

Teresi added that in truth, he didn't resent most physicists for complaining. The only one he has a problem with is Peter Higgs himself.

Six others helped discover that particle, he said.

Yet the Higgs is "the only major particle that the discoverer, or the theorist, named after himself," he said.

If there's a misnomer, it's Higgs.

Much more of Melissa's conversation with Teresi on tonight's All Things Considered. Check here for a list of local stations that carry the program. We'll post audio of the as-aired interview on this post later tonight.

Update at 6:01 p.m. ET. An Explanation:

We should have included an explanation for the Higgs. Here is a comprehensive one we provided back in July of last year.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Once Outlaws, Young Lords Find A Museum Home For Radical Roots

Inspired by the Black Panthers, the Young Lords were formed in New York City by a group of Puerto Rican youth in 1969. Their history is now on display in a new exhibition.
NPR

Europe's Taste For Caviar Is Putting Pressure On A Great Lakes Fish

Scientists say lake herring, a key fish in Lake Superior's food web, is suffering because of mild winters and Europe's appetite for roe. Some say the species may be at risk of "collapse."
NPR

Once Outlaws, Young Lords Find A Museum Home For Radical Roots

Inspired by the Black Panthers, the Young Lords were formed in New York City by a group of Puerto Rican youth in 1969. Their history is now on display in a new exhibition.
NPR

Google Brings Cell Phone Service To Sri Lanka Through, Balloons?

Google has successfully launched its "Project Loon" in Sri Lanka. The goal of the program is to use a series of high-altitude balloons to bring 3G service to underserved areas.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.