Afternoon InquisitionScience

AI: The God Particle?

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator announced Tuesday, Dec. 13, that they are closing in on the elusive Higgs particle. The Higgs particle is popularly known as the “God particle”; a moniker beloved by the press, but almost universally despised by experts who study particle physics.

“I detest the name ‘God particle,'” Vivek Sharma, a physicist at the University of California, San Diego, and the leader of the Higgs search at LHC’s CMS experiment, wrote in an email. ” I do experimental physics not GOD.”

“It’s an awful name,” Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist at the City College of New York, says. “It does not convey the particle’s true role, that it is the last missing piece of the Standard Model, and that it gives mass to the other particles.”

What do you think? Good marketing? Bad marketing? Meh? Is a new nickname in order for the particle? What nickname would you suggest?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. December 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm —

    ‘God particle’ is terribly vague. There must be something we can do with this ‘giving mass’ idea. The McDonalds particle?

  2. December 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm —

    ‘God particle’ is a terrible name. I wouldn’t mind if there was some literary or mythological allusion, but no one associates the origin of mass with God. This isn’t just an athiest thing: I don’t believe in Adam and Eve, but ‘mitochondrial Eve’ makes perfect sense.

    It doesn’t need a new nickname. Higgs is fun to say, and lends itself nicely to ‘gettin’ Higgy with it’ (which is what we’ll all be doing when we reach 5?).

    • December 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm —

      That was supposed to be ‘5 sigma’. Apparently a sigma is too special a character…

  3. December 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm —

    As a physics grad student, I detest that silly name. Leo Lederman really messed it up for all of us with the title of his book on the Higgs. So all I have to say can be summed up by this:

  4. December 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm —

    The Fat Particle.

  5. December 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm —

    If they waste “God” on the Higgs boson, what are they going to call the dark energy particle? I suppose they could call it “Dave”.

    • December 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm —

      I like it. The dark energy particle will definitely be hard to find, and when future experiments fail to find it, the physicists can say “Dave’s not here.”

    • December 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm —

      I don’t think dark energy has a particle excitation assigned to it? Dark matter needs a particle candidate though. It’s none of the known ones. It also have a nickname. WIMP. Weakly Interacting Massive Particle :)

  6. December 15, 2011 at 3:44 pm —

    Awful name. The intent of it is so vague. Is it supposed to be a god-like particle? Does it eliminate the need for god?

  7. December 15, 2011 at 3:59 pm —

    Why does it even need a nickname? Do any other subatomic particles have nicknames? Should we start calling the electron Sparky, and the neutrino the Switzerland particle?

    • December 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm —

      “Should we start calling the electron Sparky, and the neutrino the Switzerland particle?”

      Well, we are now!

      • December 15, 2011 at 9:55 pm —

        Actually most of the tunnels are in France and not in Switzerland. The nuetrino part is also mostly, if not entirely, in France. And they were detected in Italy. They also already have a nickname. Ghost particles. It’s way cooler!

        So there! :)

  8. December 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm —

    How about the fancy pants particle or even the OMG particle?

  9. December 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm —

    To steal from Clara Bow (look it up); I like the ‘it’ particle, because it is it.

    Too meta?

  10. December 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm —

    Just call it “His Noodly Appendage” and see what the press corps’ reaction is. :)

    • December 15, 2011 at 9:44 pm —

      I disagree. I belong a non-orthodox FSM sect and what we learned in Sunday School (really NFL Football tailgate parties, but mum’s the word, OK?) is that all matter really consists of smaller and smaller meatballs. Therefore, I propose that we call it the “Higgs Meatball.”

  11. December 15, 2011 at 9:27 pm —

    It already have a name, Higgs. The whole God particle is a dumb joke. There’s nothing profound about it other than it is very hard to find because there are two unknown variables in the field equations so we don’t know exactly where to look for it. I.e. a bit of a needle in a haystack. It also decay in the same way as other particles do, making it hard to detect in all the noise. The signal is up to 10 orders of magnitude smaller than the background.

    The neutrino also used to be called the ghost particle. Now it’s just being accused of speeding.

  12. December 15, 2011 at 9:55 pm —

    I wonder if its called the god particle more in the states to get people interested, when I was listening on the radio here in NZ there was no reference to that name, just called it the Higgs particle.

  13. December 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm —

    I dunno…can we trust scientists on naming things?


  14. December 15, 2011 at 11:09 pm —

    Meh, the semantics of the Higgs boson is a poor topic.

    I much more would like to see an article discussing the physics behind the Higgs as well as the method they’d use to prove or disprove that it exists.

  15. December 16, 2011 at 12:39 am —

    Wasn’t “god particle” originally a bowdlerization of “god damned particle”?

  16. December 16, 2011 at 2:11 am —

    For those interested in the Higgs boson and mechanism, here is a simple video explaining what the Higgs boson is and how it works:

  17. December 16, 2011 at 3:00 am —

    How about calling it the “Priest Particle” (because it gives mass)?!

    (Ducks and runs followed by boos and catcalls)

    • December 16, 2011 at 6:12 am —

      Awesome :D

      Or maybe the Jungle particle?

      “Why did the tiger get lost? Cos jungle is MASSIVE!”

  18. December 16, 2011 at 7:06 am —

    Meh. It’s a bad name, but it’s a lost battle at this point and at least it gets it headlines.

  19. December 16, 2011 at 8:14 am —

    I suspect the God Particle is to physics as the missing link is to biology. No matter how much we try we won’t get people to stop using it, and every now and then scientists will resort to using it themselves just to get journalists to write about their research.

  20. December 16, 2011 at 10:07 am —

    1.) The God Particle is a good book.

    2.) When I read it and wrote Leon Lederman fan mail as result, he actually wrote me back. Even though it was Christmas time and he was skiing. This encouragement may have influenced my decision to major in physics when I got to college.

    3.) Fermilab is an awesome place, and Lederman is in large part responsible for that.

    4.) The world needs more physicists with a sense of humor.

    So anyway, I think “The God Particle” is a great name. And if it gets particle physics more press and popular interest, who can complain?

  21. December 16, 2011 at 11:29 am —


  22. December 17, 2011 at 12:31 am —

    Wikipedia reports that it was referred to as the god-damned particle, and the publisher censored it. Just call it the Higgs boson, please!

    “This nickname for the Higgs boson is usually attributed to Leon Lederman, but it is actually the result of Lederman’s publisher’s censoring. Originally Lederman intended to call it “the goddamn particle”, because of its elusiveness.[15]”

  23. December 17, 2011 at 8:12 pm —

    Every time you refer to the higgs boson as the god particle I will personally strangle then skin a kitten

  24. December 17, 2011 at 8:45 pm —

    Lederman should have changed the book title to the “DOGGONE PARTICLE” which would have made the censor happy. More importantly, however, it would have eventually morphed into the natural shorthand version – i.e “THE DOG PARTICLE”.


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