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Higgs boson poses mysteries: What to call it, and who gets the Nobel?

Belgian physicist Francois Englert (left) and British physicist Peter Higgs (right) shake hands before the scientific seminar that revealed the discovery of a
Belgian physicist Francois Englert (left) and British physicist Peter Higgs (right) shake hands before the scientific seminar that revealed the discovery of aDeinis Balibouse / Reuters

GENEVA — Francois Englert, the Belgian physicist widely tipped to share a Nobel Prize this year with Britain's Peter Higgs, said on Tuesday that many cosmic mysteries remain despite the discovery of the boson thought to help give shape to the universe.

And he predicted that new signs of the real makeup of the cosmos, and what might lie beyond, should emerge from 2015 when the world's most powerful research machine — the Large Hadron Collider at Europe's CERN particle physics lab — goes back into operation.

"Things cannot be as simple as our Standard Model," Englert told Reuters, referring to the draft concept of how the universe works. The last major missing element of the Standard Model was provided when the long-sought particle named for Higgs was spotted last year.

"There are so many questions that the model doesn't answer. There must be much, much more. And we look to getting closer to understanding what that is when the data starts emerging from a more powerful LHC," he said.

Englert, 81, spoke during a visit to CERN, the research center near Geneva where the Higgs boson was discovered.

What to call it?

The giant subterranean LHC was shut down in February to be equipped to collide particles at close to the speed of light with twice as much force as during its first three years of operations, which was crowned with the Higgs boson's appearance. Englert's visit, with Belgium's prime minister Elio Di Rupo, came amid discussion among scientists on whether the particle should remain tied to the name of Higgs or also bear a reference to Englert and another Belgian physicist,  Robert Brout.

The concept of a particle and field that turned flying matter into mass after the primeval explosion that gave birth to the universe emerged in 1964 — the product of three separate research efforts, by six physicists in all.

While Higgs, now 83, worked largely alone, Brout — who died in 2011 — and Englert combined their investigations in Belgium. At the same time, another team — consisting of Americans Gerald Guralnik and Carl Hagen as well as Briton Tom Kibble — worked on the idea in London. Brout and Englert published a paper on their research at the end of August 1964. The University of Edinburgh's Higgs issued his own paper six weeks later, followed by Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble a month after that.

BEH boson? BEHH?

As interest grew in the idea of what was initially called a "scalar" field and boson, the concept became popularly associated with Higgs. Exactly how this happened has never become clear.

In Belgium it was dubbed the "Brout-Englert-Higgs" or BEH mechanism, a term used by Englert in a short speech to CERN researchers and students on Tuesday. Belgian newspapers have championed the idea of renaming it that way. Others, including Hagen himself, have insisted that the work of his team, headquartered at London's Imperial College, should be recognized.

The issue has gained spice because it is likely that the Nobel committee will award its annual physics prize this autumn for discovery of the boson — and such an honor can go to no more than three living people, under current rules.

CERN and its American counterpart, Fermilab near Chicago, decline to take a position either on the prize or a name change. "One thing is clear, the Nobel people have a helluva problem to resolve," said one senior CERN official.

More about the Higgs quest:

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