Who Really Found the Higgs Boson

To those who say that there is no room for genius in modern science because everything has been discovered, Fabiola Gianotti has a sharp reply. “No, not at all,” says the former spokesperson of the ATLAS Experiment, the largest particle detector at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. “Until the fourth of July, 2012 we had no proof that nature allows for elementary scalar fields. So there is a lot of space for genius.”

She is referring to the discovery of the Higgs boson—potentially one of the most important advances in physics in the past half century. It is a manifestation of the eponymous field that permeates all of space, and completes the standard model of physics: a sort of baseline description for the existence and behavior of essentially everything there is.

By any standards, it is an epochal, genius achievement.

What is less clear is who, exactly, the genius is. An obvious candidate is Peter Higgs, who postulated the Higgs boson, as a consequence of the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism, in 1964. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2013 along with Francois Englert (Englert and his deceased colleague Robert Brout arrived at the same result independently). But does this mean that Higgs was a genius? Peter Jenni, one of the founders and the first “spokesperson” of the ATLAS Experiment Collaboration (one of the two experiments at CERN that discovered the Higgs particle), hesitates when I ask him the question.

“They [Higgs, Brout and Englert] didn’t think they [were working] on something as grandiose as

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