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Published: Sunday, 10/13/2013


Big small discovery

In the mid-1960s, six theorists proposed an audacious idea about the cosmos. Peter Higgs of the United Kingdom and Francois Englert of Belgium took the lead among fellow physicists in producing what would become a cornerstone of the standard model of particle physics.

Mr. Higgs and Mr. Englert speculated on the existence of a subatomic particle that would become known as the Higgs boson. They theorized that the boson — later nicknamed the “God particle” — is an integral part of an energy field that transmits mass to everything that passes through it. The theory won them the Nobel Prize for physics last week.

When they proposed it, the theory was unprovable because of the limits of technology. But outside Geneva last year, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research Large Hadron Collider worked to isolate the elusive particle, using technology that didn’t exist half a century ago.

The efforts of 10,000 people, $10 billion, and two decades devoted to building the supercollider paid off with the announcement that the theory had been confirmed. A Nobel Prize was inevitable, but the Nobel committee does not give a prize to more than three people or to anyone who has died. The award went to Mr. Higgs and Mr. Englert, whose work preceded the discovery.

The selection is fitting. This discovery of a lifetime has transformed our understanding of the structure of the universe.

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