This post is cross-posted and translated from skepchick.no.
Ok, so we’ve been talking about the Higgs particle for a year or so now, but there is still this annoying thing that pops up again and again. Namely the nick name the “God Particle”. It is one thing that religious people talk about the particle as if it was actually divine or something, but when scientists perpetuate myths about the Higgs it gets annoying. Can’t we just call it the “Unicorn Particle” instead? Much less fuzz …
Professor Michio Kaku is a relatively well know populariser of science that many may know from TV. He recently stated that:
The Higgs boson is often called “the God particle” because it’s said to be what caused the “Big Bang” that created our universe many years ago. The nickname caught on so quickly (even though scientists and clergy alike do not care for it) partly because it’s a great explanation of what it’s supposed to do — the Higgs boson is what joins everything and gives it matter.
Really? As far as I am aware the Higgs was called the “God Particle” due to some back and forth about a book title. It is not nick named that because it is responsible for the origin of the universe or something like that. I’m no expert on cosmology and the Big Bang, but physicist Sean Carroll states that there is no connection between the Higgs and the Big Bang in the way that Kaku seems to claim.
That last part of this quote makes no sense either. I have no idea what he means by “joins everything”, because it certainly does not. The forces of nature joins everything. The electromagnetic force (Coulomb force), the nuclear forces and gravity does. And what about the claim that Higgs gives mass to everything around us? That too is false, at least in the way we usually mean it when we talk about the mass of solid matter. Higgs gives mass to the elementary particles, the electrons and quarks that make up the majority of everything around us, on a fundamental level; but the mass of stuff we see mainly comes from protons and neutrons, which are again made up of quarks (1-2%), and the strong nuclear force and the kinetic energy of the quarks rattling around in their cage (98-99%). The mass of a proton is 938 MeV, while the mass of the quarks are around 1–5 MeV, and there’s only three (non-virtual) quarks in each proton or neutron.
It’s annoying when physicists say things like this. If you want to popularise science, you still need to make sure it is correct, otherwise there isn’t much point. You may as well end up with something like:
Ok, these are a little funny …
… but, I don’t thing we can call the Higgs the “God Particle” any more anyway, as we have pretty much proven it actually exists!
More Higgs stuff for the interested: