Sunday, 8 December 2013

For eternity

I felt today truly humbled. I followed many other people from the Stockholm University to Aula Magna on this early Sunday morning in a pilgrimage. Like them I wanted to see the most famous physicist alive, the person named prominently in the ‘Big Bang Theory’, the man behind the Higgs Bosom... I mean the Higgs Boson. The whole hall was full and nobody followed the polite hope that people would not use mobile phones or cameras. One man in the row in front of me had a video camera. Actually, the Nobel organisers had already admitted in beforehand the unavoidable by encouraging people to twitter from the occasion. These contradictory wishes were not unexpected – we had all come to honour the luckiest scientists ever and wanted to record it, but the Nobel Prizes hoped to get there first.

Englebert & Higgs on December 8

Higgs and the Englert & Brout team who came to the same conclusion independently just slightly earlier, but their paper came out so late Higgs was not aware of their work thinking that their institution specialised totally to something else, had to wait for 40 years before anybody could built an instrument that could prove that this specific shot-lived temporary boson existed. Their line of research was very unfashionable in the early 1960s, but now they have seen the evidence (see below) that their theory is not only a theory but an explanation. The blip in the readings in 2012 in the famous Large Hodron Collider rewarded a long wait during which Robert Brout had already left this reality and could not be there on the scene when Englert and Higgs received a standing ovation from the full house. Considering this, the organisers who tried to show Higgs the timing cards would have probably been unwise to try to stop him. This was their true moment in the limelight after many years of patience. Einstein only had to wait for 17 years for his Nobel prize.

Emeriti presented two different approaches to the presentation of their finds that basically outline the same principle that there is a momentary break in certain conditions in the symmetry in the sub-particle level and the energy is absorbed in/by this boson. Or along those lines – it is about 30 years since I did my advanced physics. Higgs has never read an e-mail and logically does not give PowerPoints. On the contrary, Englert could master his PowerPoint presentation effortlessly. His task was to explain what they found out. It was all very well-presented, but most people were there for one presentation only (even if many students had packed lunch in order to hear the economics – I had decided to improve my economics and do a free museum visit instead). We started to photograph The Man from the moment he stepped to the room and continued when he started to read his paper the manuscript of which was beamed onto the screen. He took the trip down to the memory lane. How he had missed the night-time wine-fuelled discussions, with wine Higgs had provided, between other physicists in the first Edinburgh summer school since he had other things to do and missed an opportunity to help to fix a mistake in another physicist’s unpublished paper. How the series he was writing to was shipped to him and he got the important papers a few months late from the State. How this publication published his outline, but refused his proper mathematical presentation of his idea. When he got around sending it to America, the Englert & Higgs paper came out on the same day. This he heard twenty years later from the famous physicist who peer reviewed both papers. This was like Pamela Smith’s Personal Histories, but in physics, not in archaeology.

The proving blip

This was the great historical moment of my week. I did hear a good presentation of another topic of eternity – how to keep the memory of the sites with radio active waste. Similarly, the ATLAS project had its big event and stirred heated questions. But of those another time. Now one just has to think, if there has been a moment of such rewarded patience in archaeology. Carter was looking for the Tutankhamen’s tomb (or any remaining tomb) from 1917 and 1922 and was literarily on his last leg with the funding when they found the first steps. That find was glorious, but we will see, if the new methods can help to prove some theories to the reality in the past.

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