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Nobel to pick God’s chosen one: Higgs or Englert?

The discovery - or near discovery - of the Higgs boson, will see someone win a Nobel prize, but deciding who deserves credit for the work is a minefield.

world Updated: Jul 06, 2012 00:44 IST

It's good news for physicists, but a big headache for the Nobel committee.

The discovery - or near discovery - of the Higgs boson, will see someone win a Nobel prize, but deciding who deserves credit for the work is a minefield.

Traditionally, the science Nobel prizes are given to a maximum of three people, whose contributions are judged to be the most important. The rule is archaic in that it harks back to a time when much of science was done by individuals or smaller groups.

Two teams of scientists at Cern, amounting to thousands of people, carried out the painstaking work of spotting traces of the particle amid the subatomic debris of more than a thousand trillion collisions inside the Large Hadron Collider. All deserve credit for that effort.

But this is the least of the Nobel committee's problems. The prize is more likely to go to theoretical physicists who worked on the theory almost 50 years ago. Here the parentage becomes more muddled. Six physicists published the theory within four months of each other in 1964. They built on the work of others.

The first to publish, that August, were Robert Brout and Francois Englert at the Free University of Brussels. Brout died in 2011 and the award cannot be given posthumously.

Second to publish was Peter Higgs, with two papers on the theory in September and October 1964.