Who really discovered the Higgs particle? © Getty Images

Who really discovered the Higgs particle?

The battle of the theoretical force fields in particle physics.

In 2012, scientists announced the detection of the Higgs particle, a crucial part of theories describing the basic forces of nature. Its existence had been proposed nearly 50 years earlier by the British theoretician Peter Higgs. But confirmation of his work sparked controversy about who should win the Nobel Prize, as Higgs was not the first to suggest the eponymous particle might exist.

Advertisement

A few weeks before Higgs’ work appeared in October 1964, Belgian theorists François Englert and Robert Brout showed that some properties of atomic nuclei might be linked to a kind of force field. Theorists already knew that such force fields demand the existence of particles to transmit them, and Englert and Brout didn’t go into details. Higgs went a bit further, giving a formula to describe the particle, but again made little of it.

It took a blunder by another theorist for Higgs to be widely credited with discovering the need for the particle. Steven Weinberg – who later won a Nobel for his own work on fundamental forces – accidentally credited Higgs as being the first to publish the theory. His authority then led others to talk simply of the Higgs particle. Fortunately, the Nobel Prize went to both Englert and Higgs, Brout having died in 2011.

Who really discovered nuclear fission? © Getty Images

Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun facts.