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This is what researchers at the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider expect a Higgs boson to look like. The Higgs boson is the subatomic particle that scientists say gives everything in the universe mass. (ATLAS Experiment/CERN)

The Man Who Coined 'The God Particle' Explains: It Was A Joke!

by Eyder Peralta
Mar 15, 2013 (All Things Considered)

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Eyder Peralta

We've explained it many times: Physicists are irked when we in the media call the Higgs Boson, "The God Particle."

The Higgs is important because the elusive subatomic particle is believed to give everything its mass. But as Marcelo Gleiser — of NPR's 13.7 — explained, the nickname doesn't quite explain the particle because while it "does have something of a centralizing influence," it's "nothing quite divine."

It's misnomer, even stupid, some physicists say.

All Things Considered spoke to the man credited with giving the particle its moniker. In 1993, Dick Teresi co-wrote The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? with Leon Lederman, the Nobel prize winning physicist.

He told Melissa Block that the name was born out of a joke, a working title he never thought the publisher would buy.

In fact, he said, "for us being atheists, it's kind of a scary, evil kind of particle that obfuscates what's really going on."

So what does he say to his detractors?

"They protest too much," he said. In fact, the name will likely stick, he said, just like another famous deregatory term has — "The Big Bang."

Teresi added that in truth, he didn't resent most physicists for complaining. The only one he has a problem with is Peter Higgs himself.

Six others helped discover that particle, he said.

Yet the Higgs is "the only major particle that the discoverer, or the theorist, named after himself," he said.

If there's a misnomer, it's Higgs.

Much more of Melissa's conversation with Teresi on tonight's All Things Considered. Check here for a list of local stations that carry the program. We'll post audio of the as-aired interview on this post later tonight.

Update at 6:01 p.m. ET. An Explanation:

We should have included an explanation for the Higgs. Here is a comprehensive one we provided back in July of last year.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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