Friday, June 29, 2012

Modest Peter Higgs: yes, the boson is like Margaret Thatcher

Physics World offers us a 20-minute audio interview with Peter Higgs:
Peter Higgs in the spotlight
Among other things, he sensibly says that others may deserve to appear in the name for the Higgs mechanism but it's probably OK for the boson to be called after Higgs himself because he was the unique guy who promoted the boson's existence around 1964. He reviews some history involving a rejected paper etc.

At the end, he also endorses the analogy between the Higgs boson and Margaret Thatcher:

Margaret Thatcher appears in the room and things become heavy. Higgs just emphasizes that it is wrong to compare the process of acquiring mass to a syrup because the deceleration in a syrup is a dissipative process while the Higgs mechanism isn't.

If you don't know, the explanation of the Higgs boson as Margaret Thatcher was presented to the U.K. science minister in 1993 by David Miller from a university in London.

The Hunt for Higgs, BBC, 2012

By being so kind, Higgs is actually repaying a debt to the Fe Lady, a famous British chemist. Her defense of the LHC may have been crucial for the survival of the LHC project – and therefore for the looming discovery of the Higgs boson.
Margaret Thatcher was more circumspect when she wrong-footed sceptical Cabinet colleagues with her defence of public spending on the Large Hadron Collider. "Yes, but isn't it interesting?" was enough to stifle their objections. And her interest in the work at CERN was rewarded by Tim Berners-Lee establishing the groundwork for the World Wide Web. I've seen the original computer server with a note from Tim attached, instructing fellow scientists not to switch it off. Our lives have truly been revolutionised by his inventiveness.
Her soulmate Ronald Reagan initiated the SSC; however, that project had to continue through some more hostile years in the U.S. and it died.

Today, Google Czechia celebrates the birthday of Josef Ressel, the Czech-Austrian inventor of the propeller (and other things). He wasn't bad for a forest warden.


  1. Ha ha, Margeret Thatcher for president (in the US) ... :-D

    Good for her to defend the LHC ... :-)

  2. Off topic...:
    In his anniversary post
    for his site, Prof. Strassler says:

    "And with the recession taking down my long-standing LHC research plans, I was looking for some non-scientific way to be useful"

    And the commenter Peter Pan has seen (I dont know where) that he is on an academic leave ...

    Does this mean now that the US have started to cancel not only their efforts into experimental fundamental physics but are closing theoretical physics research too ... :-( ?!

    Even though I dont always agree with everything Prof. Strassler says, I dont like this ... :-/
    Of course I`ve asked him too about the more exact meaning of this sentence.

  3. Dear Dilaton, you may see that Matt has been on academic leave since 2011 on his own Rutgers web page,

    Things are bad but I think you probably overstate what "academic leave" is. He's still being paid something - orders of magnitude more than myself, for example. ;-)

  4. Yeah ok; maybe you should get an "academic leave" too somewhere ... ;-)

    I`m just worried by these general trends in the US I observe ...

    Maybe Prof. Strassler deserves it because I suspect he has stolen my nice white wool ball I`m missing since a long time ago and that shows up on the funny picture of the High Energy Theory group at the Rutgers University, see ... :-P

  5. Shame that maggie gave the global warming nutters their first dose of credibility with nutters like Crispin Tickell

  6. Someone please help me out with a stupid question... The Thatcher-Higgs boson analogy, as it's been explained to me, goes like this. In a room full of people who are randomly dispersed, suddenly the British prime minister makes her entrance. As she makes her way across the room, people in her vicinity are drawn to her by a desire to rub shoulders with someone so powerful and charismatic. The initial hangers-on drop off, only to be replaced by new ones as she cuts a swath across the room.

    It's been said that this visual analogy explains how the Higgs particle conveys mass to all the other elementary particles (which do not have mass intrinsically).

    So where is the "Higgs field" in this analogy? Is it represented by the desire of people to get close to the Prime Minister? Bosons, I was told, are particles that mediate forces between fermions (the photon mediates electromagnetic force).

    To me, the Thatcher visual analogy would be best suited to describing the evolution of freely floating particles that are disturbed by the motion of a much more massive particle moving at speed through the group. As this heavy particle passes close by to lighter particles, each of them is in turn induced to follow the heavy particle for a while before it is left behind due to the attracting particle's greater speed.

    I just don't find the Thatcher idea helpful to getting a better understanding of what the Higgs particle is and how it conveys mass to the rest.

  7. Ignore dumb analogies and read something serious.
    But if you want my explanation, Thatcher in the example is an ordinary particle like the electron, and the other people are the Higgs bosons (quanta of the Higgs field). They interact with Thatcher and so give her her mass.

  8. Thanks; Mephisto, will check out your link later- Your explanation agrees with the reading that I have done in the interim. Just yesterday I read that most of the mass in ordinary objects comes from the "binding energy" within atomic nuclei and that the Higgs accounts for only a few percent of the total, namely "rest mass". Why did I not hear about this until yesterday? Every science-journalism article about the Higgs that I had read previously, if it had anything to say about the relationship between Higgs and mass of real-world objects, gave the impression that *all* the mass is conferred by the Higgs!