Should the boson, credited by mistake only to Higgs, change its name?

Whose boson? As far as the public goes, if the boson has a last name, it’s the one belonging to Peter Higgs, one of the researchers who theorized its existence. But he was not the first.

The credit should go to two Belgian physicists, François Englert and Robert Brout, who first published a description of the boson. Actually, it wasn’t by much. A single month during the summer of 1994 went by between the submission of the articles, and fifteen days between their respective publications. Three months later another team including de Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble published an article describing their findings that further developed this hypothesis.

There is no doubt that the Belgian researchers were first. Peter Higgs himself mentioned his Belgian colleagues’ work in his own articles. Higgs himself never denied his predecessors and willingly recognizes them when he is asked about his work. However, the fact that he’s the only Anglo with an easily remembered name probably had something to do with this preference.

It’s a Nobel Prize error, but there’s another reason: Steven Weinburg, Nobel prize winner in 1979 for a model that integrate the boson’s existence admits that “I made a mistake that is partially responsible for the expression ‘Higgs boson.’ In my 1967 article on weak forces and electromagnetics unification, I quoted Peter Higgs’ 1964 work along with two other theoreticians’ groups. I read the dates on these first three articles wrong: I thought that Higgs’ article came first, so I mentioned him first and continued to do that ever since. It seems that other physicists followed suit. To mitigate my mistake, I pointed out that Brout and Englert worked independently around the same period, but the name ‘Higgs boson’ seems to have stuck”.

Are there any consequences to this? It’s not a foregone conclusion. In July 2012, when Cern announced it had observed a particle that resembled with near certainty the boson, Carl Hagen, one of the members of the “third article” regretted seeing “Higgs being treated like some kind of rock star, but the rest of us receiving almost no public recognition. It’s clear that Higgs overshadowed us only because his name is associated with the boson.” This is why it’s often called in Belgium the “B-E-H boson” in order to include Brout and Englert. The name, however, does seems to lack a certain ring to it. Some even proposed the idea of an acronym that would include the initials of the seven researchers. It would read “BEHGHK” which in English would be pronounced “berk”: definitely not sexy.

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