What to call the particle formerly known as Higgs

Earlier this month, organisers of a physics meeting requested that the Higgs boson – the still-hypothetical particle thought to endow other particles with mass  – instead be referred to as either the BEH or scalar boson. The name change might seem esoteric, but it hints at a complex past  – and trouble ahead over credit for the boson, if it is found.

To understand, rewind about 50 years. As with most scientific advances, a single mind did not solve the mass puzzle. Work by Yoichiro Nambu of the University of Chicago in 1961 led to the idea that a mass-giving field interrupted an early universe until then filled only with massless particles.

In August 1964, Robert Brout and François Englert (the B and E in BEH) at the Free University in Brussels, Belgium, ironed out some kinks in the theory and detailed a mechanism. But it was Peter Higgs at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who first explicitly predicted the particle we now call the Higgs  – in a paper published in October 1964.

This progression explains the BEH boson option, one of the two mooted at the annual Moriond meeting in La Thuile, Italy, but why change it this year? Many say it is because Englert was at Moriond, and the organisers didn’t want to upset him. Other attendees, however, were upset by the proposed change, including Wade Fisher of Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Fisher says the debaters fall into four main camps: Higgs supporters; BEH proponents; those favouring the anonymous scalar boson; and those who favour another name – the BEHHGK boson. The latter group, including Fisher, want to credit Dick Hagen, Gerald Guralnik and Tom Kibble, who published a mass-giving mechanism in 1964.

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