Of Particular Significance

In Memoriam: Gerry Guralnik

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 05/06/2014

For those who haven’t heard: Professor Gerry Guralnik died. Here’s the New York Times obituary, which contains a few physics imperfections (though the most serious mistake in an earlier version was corrected, thankfully), but hopefully avoids any errors about Guralnik’s life.  Here’s another press release, from Brown University.

Guralnik, with Tom Kibble and Carl Hagen, wrote one of the four 1964 papers which represent the birth of the idea of the “Higgs” field, now understood as the source of mass for the known elementary particles — an idea that was confirmed by the discovery of a type of “Higgs” particle in 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider.  (I find it sad that the obituary is sullied with a headline that contains the words “God Particle” — a term that no physicist involved in the relevant research ever used, and which was invented in the 1990s, not as science or even as religion, but for $$$… by someone who was trying to sell his book.) The other three papers — the first by Robert Brout and Francois Englert, and the second and third by Peter Higgs, were rewarded with a Nobel Prize in 2013; it was given just to Englert and Higgs, Brout having died too early, in 2011.  Though Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble won many other prizes, they were not awarded a Nobel for their work, a decision that will remain forever controversial.

But at least Guralnik lived long enough to learn, as Brout sadly did not, that his ideas were realized in nature, and to see the consequences of these ideas in real data. In the end, that’s the real prize, and one that no human can award.

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21 Responses

  1. The steam engine was not invented by one single person. It certainly was not invented by James Watt, he merely refined the idea into a practical machine. George Stephenson did not invent the locomotive, he refined an existing design, and refined the design of the track to where the locomotive was now practical. Robert Fulton did not invent the steam powered ship, he was the first to build a practical and profitable ship. History is littered with people like Denis Papin or Richard Trevithick.
    The history of steam power, like the history of invention in general, is one of unlikely necessity, and inspiration building upon inspiration. Like invention in general, the people most remembered are not the original theorists.
    There is a lesson here – an invention is not truly an invention, until it has brought meaningful benefits to a large number of people – or Annihilating large number of people.

  2. The greatest “prize” one can recieve in the academia is when your peers surrender their pens on to your desk in recognition of your ground breaking research.

  3. >>and their one statement about it is essentially wrong — they said it would >>be massless

    I looked at the last video posted above and I think Guralnik addresses this phi2 “massless” point starting at 50:00.

    1. I think you should read their paper. It’s very clear. The entire discussion of the Higgs particle consists of one line. And it very clearly says “massless” for reasons that are obvious in context… no matter what historical spin the authors may have tried to put on it later.

      Again, it doesn’t matter. The field, not the particle, is the important part of the physics. That’s why even Higgs himself discussed it as an afterthought.

  4. Whether you like the term “God Particle” depends on personal taste. Most hate it of course. That said, it is just as accurate as the term “BEH Boson” as the Englert and Brout paper has no boson – and that term seems to just try to explicitly exclude Guralnik and GHK.

    Hagen uses the term “God Particle”. Guralnik used it also. Both used it because it was not a name of just one of the five theorists. Here are some popular (to non-physics audiences) talks where the term is used frequently by Hagen.


    Below is also Gerry’s last paper (“Where Have All the Goldstone Bosons Gone?” Modern Physics Letters A, Volume: 29, Number: 09 (21 March 2014)) that explains misconceptions and errors about the Goldstone Theorem and mechanism – made by other physicists and the Nobel Committee.


    Certainly they must have written this paper in response to the summary (with many errors) of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics published by the Swedes.

    Here is also a lecture by Gerry that is just a few months before the controversial 2013 Nobel Prize. One of the best physics lectures on the “Higgs” topic I have seen. The lecture gets into both the history and the actual physics – including a comparison of the PRL papers from 1964.


    Hopefully the Swedes someday get a Nobel to CERN and the remaining theorists before they join Guralnik.

    1. I think calling it the “God particle” is completely ridiculous. The particle itself is of very limited importance; that’s why Brout and Englert didn’t even mention it, Higgs said relatively little about it and only as an afterthought, and Guralnick et al. pointed out its presence but said not to pay attention to it (and their one statement about it is essentially wrong — they said it would be massless. That’s essentially false, even in their model, quantum mechanically.)

      It is the Higgs/H/BEH/BEHGHK/A-BEHGHK field that is important. That’s the thing that gives mass to the known elementary particles, and that’s the thing that physicists care about and are focused on. For most of us, the particle is just a means by which to understand the field. And I have yet to hear the media refer to the “God field”.

      So in my view, Guralnick and Hagen, like Leon Lederman before them, were trying to capitalize on advertising and the media. It’s not respectable or appropriate to play the public like that.

      1. It may not be as ridiculous as may think, professor. And since you came out with the phrase, “God field”, and assume that is your quote, let me pass this by you and hope you will consider it even for a moment.

        We all searched and most of us still are, for God at one time or another and that include atheists. Of course, it is a very difficult task to find Him and explain Him just as it is to solve the mysteries of our universe. He has always been in competition with human beliefs, God (creation) and/or physical laws (evolution). It has been a see-saw for millennium and it will not stop and maybe there is a sound reason for its persistence. Maybe the concept of God and our visible universe is one of the same. Simply put, God is the universal consciousness and it is through a conscious awareness we are all linked to Him.

        Evidence? Here is a brief video of a simulation of the “cosmic web”, (the mind of God?)our visible universe, the music is cool too, 🙂


        It sure resembles in both structurally and functionally our own “mind”, our neural network and the fact that dense energy concentrations and transformations occur at the junctions of the filaments (neurons). If this dynamic structure gives us consciousness is it also possible the filaments of the universe create a consciousness, an all encompassing awareness, God?

        So, free energy is not enough, matter is needed to create such a magnificent web and the Higgs boson, “God’s particle” the particle (field) that created God.

        Yes, God did not create the universe, the universe created God. It is our consciousness that makes us superior to all other animals, so why only humans, why didn’t the other branches involve as we did?

        Yes, “God’s particle” maybe not be ridiculous as you may think.

        Sorry for the religion topic, but I needed to get it off my mind, 🙂

        1. I have no problem with religion. I have a problem with assigning religious significance to the Higgs field that is not assigned to the photon field (let there be light?), to the graviton/gravitational field (let there be space? let there be stars and planets?), to the electron field (let there be something light and electrically charged so that there can be chemistry?), to the gluon field (let there be mass? — because, please remember, the vast majority of the mass of all the objects around you does NOT come from the Higgs field, but rather from the strong nuclear force), to the neutrino field (let the sun burn?), etc. Sure, the Higgs field is important. But so are lots of other things, clearly of equal or even greater significance. Viewing the Higgs field as the most important of all the fields of nature is possible only if one completely ignores how nature actually works. It may be good poetry, but it’s bad science, and it’s bad religion.

          1. Answer to all your question marks could very well be yes. I apologies if my remarks led you to think I perceived the Higgs as the most important of all the “particles” nor do I think the person who came up with the phrase “God’s particle” does so either. I think he was just making a general statement of the fact that we finally have some concrete understanding of who matter is created. I must emphasize the distinction between matter (fermions) and light (bosons). I am saying it is the matter that gives the universe structure (the filaments we see and are a part of). So this structure, this magnificent web, is made up of all that you have listed above. Simply, the Higgs particle surfaced first and some one grabbed it for a profit, 🙂

            And it is this structure that could very well create a consciousness, just like our nervous system created our consciousness. So, my logic is, if our consciousness makes us “human”, intelligent animals enough to figure out our universe, then think of what this monumental structure can accomplice, i.e. God-like. I argue, it is extremely similar to our nervous system in our brain, both physically and functionally, so it could very well be possible.

            The obvious argument people use to refute this idea is, then what created the universe, the causality argument. I say nothing, nothing created the universe, because it always exist. Of course at different phases and maybe cyclic but it need not be cyclic as one phases out another pops out and who knows we maybe in a soup of multiple universes all popping in and out, now. NOW! … only the now exist and it is us who embedded time just for convenience.

            I ask you, how could there not be a God?

          2. Sorry, but a new and better video came out on the cosmic web simulation which I like to share with you and your readers. The narrator describes as “branches of a tree”, well I see it as like neurons in our brain.


            Another question that strikes me watching this simulation, assuming it is accurate, is that inflation or that initial expansion of “space” must of happened faster than the speed of light in order to create a non-uniformity of matter (whether dark and/or light). So, space is not constrained to the limit c. Hence, could there be regions between the clusters that are “empty”, below ZPE, absolute zero energy?

        2. Higgs mechanism: The Higgs field doesn’t ‘stabilize’ rest mass, it *causes* it.
          Electroweak symmetry breaking: It does not unite the weak and electromagnetic forces; instead it MAKES them from two totally different forces (Isocharge and isospin).

          I understand, “In two massless fields, one is destabilize by Higgs mechanism”. A gauge field could give a particle, but it will be “massless” like photon. This means “gauge invariance (bosons) can get rest mass through Higgs mechanism”. But why photons are “rest massless” ?

          Once I had an unanswered question during my school days in 7th standard, “why my image in the mirror is not me” ?
          Because it does what I do – means a stable wave in one creates a stable wave in the other.
          At the sametime, I can move a pencil but my mirror image cannot on its own – means the stable wave in one, not creates a stable wave in the other, requires ‘extra’ energy to move a pencil.
          How can we say Higgs mechanism created this difference(non zero) – preventing the annihilation ? – measuring consciousness is meaningless – measuring and consciousness is indistinguishable.

          I could not see my own eyes (I could not measure my CONSCIOUSNESS with my consciousness), so I need a “MODEL (standard)” as a mirror image to see my eyes.
          But I have “mass” to move a pencil, my model (or wave function) as a mirror image have not. How could I make my mirror image to move a pencil on its own, through Higgs mechanism ?

          Unless there is some difference like quantum entanglement, and also if one of them is crippled ?

          1. The photon is massless because it has no ‘Higgs component’ Seven particles are mixed to create four new particles. The starting seven are the W1, W2 and W3 isospin particles, the B isocharge particle and H+, H- and H0; the three massless Higgs bosons. Any particle that is part massless Higgs boson will be heavy. (he reasons for this are complicated.)

            The W1 and W2 mix with the H+ and H- to become W+ and W-. Because they have a ‘Higgs component’ they are heavy.

            The W3 and H0 cannot mix simply, instead the W3 H0 AND B particle must all mix into one, the Z. Because it has a ‘Higgs component’ it is heavy.

            But this leaves a little something left over, part W3 and part B particle, this is the photon. It has no ‘Higgs component’ so it is massless, just like all the other bosons (Gravitons, gluons).

            The Higgs mechanism is not like you and your reflection. It is not one massless particle\field that is affected but both together, equally. Imagine you and me in a room. We can both move quite fast, running about independently. Now imagine Professor Higgs comes in and ties us together with rope. Now we cannot move independently, if one wants to move, BOTH must move together. If we are not tightly tied this isn’t too bad, but if we are tied very tightly, if our arms are tied together and our legs, even our heads, then things become very hard for us. Quite likely we will just fall on he floor and be stuck. If we wanted to move we would have to do so very slowly, talking to each other so we know what we are doing. This is more like how the higgs mechanism works.

            Finally measuring and consciousness are distinguishable; anything can measure. A speck of dust a single photon. The universe measures itself all the time. (Otherwise things get tricky. If my big toe measures something but I don’t consciously know it, is that a measurement? What if my shoe does? Where is the boundary between conscious, measuring me and the not conscious, being measured rest of the universe?)

          2. Thank you Mr Kudzu, my knowledge is not enough to argue with you or Professor Strassler. My analogy of “me and my reflection” is only a kid’s understanding of reality and mathematical models. It may like the difference between relativity and quantum mechanics. Crippling weak gauge foce but not electromagnetic gauge force – not of direct scientific context.
            The underline is, “At some point in the fall of 1967, I think while driving to my office at M.I.T., it occurred to me that I had been applying the right ideas to the wrong problem” – .Weinberg.

            I can understand a little, gauge symmetry, degrees of freedom, and polarizations here…… http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2011/10/10/who-ate-the-higgs/

  5. It is sad to hear of the passing of Dr. Guralnik. Regarding the importance of being recognized, I guess that history will take care of remembering all these guys (Guralnik, Hagen, Kibble, Brout, Englert and Higgs) as that wild and young bunch of rebels that figured out the BEH mechanism.

    I also consider that the issue of not being properly recognized by their peers might have been something not very easy to cope with.

    Regarding this, there is an interesting anecdote of Brout’s that happened just a few years after the publication of all these papers. Brout was in the audience of a conference, with the speaker talking about the BEH mechanism, describing it as “the Higgs Mechanism”.

    At that moment, Brout interrupts the speaker to correct him regarding the fact that he also discovered independently that mechanism, so, his name should be included too.

    The speaker answers (without giving much thought, so it seems), that Higgs’ name was used because of the alphabetical order of the names, which irritated Brout even more, so, he answered:

    My last name starts with B.

    So, to this, the speaker answers: maybe its because Higgs is a shorter name.

    This completely drives Brout out of himself, and answers:

    My last name has five letters too!

    Kind regards, GEN

  6. While Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble did not share in the Nobel, they did share in the earlier Sakurai Prize (as did the late Robert Brout.) For the record, Peter Higgs referred explicitly to Robert Brout and I think also to GHK in his Nobel Speech. In his remarks at the Nobel Banquet, he said that many others besides him and Englert had worked on the ideas behind the discovery, though he did not mention the half-dozen or more names that people could reasonably add (GHK, ‘t Hooft, Anderson…) (I was at the Nobel ceremonies, but not the banquet; I am Higgs’s only American research student.) Maybe it should also be added that Higgs invited Fabiola Gianotti and Joe Incandela, the spokespeople for ATLAS and CMS respectively, to the ceremonies; he felt that this was CERN’s prize also.

    The limit to three people, and not to include the recent dead, seems to me unfortunate. At some point CERN is going to win a Nobel. That’s going to be quite a few more than three people. (IIRC, there was a tweet from the Nobel Committee the day before the announcement that the Committee had decided that an organization could win the Nobel. This led to some excitement at CERN, dashed the next day.) The exclusion of those who have died is reasonable to prevent a Nobel being given e.g. to Minkowski or Maxwell (or even Galileo or Newton!), but maybe if the death occurred within a limited time frame (5 years?) that person should be included. For one thing, there may be a widower/widow or dependent children involved, and the money might really come in handy. F. Reines and C. Cowan should have shared the Nobel in 1995 for the discovery of the neutrino, but Clyde Cowan died in 1974. Ralph Steinman was awarded a share of the Medicine Nobel in 2011, but he had died a few hours prior. News of his demise had not made it to Stockholm. So at least once, the award has been given posthumously, if accidentally so.

  7. It is sad that Guralnik died with the realization that, although his idea was proved right, he was not awarded Nobel prize. It is high time they remove this maximum three person limit. Also, it is ironic that these days, it is dangerous to be collegial and ‘nice’! They did work independently, but quoted the Anglert, Brout and Higgs paper because they saw it just before mailing their manuscript to the journal. So the Nobel committee thought ABH had the original idea. I am sure ABH had no knowledge of GKH work and Higgs has given credit to GKH work recently. I understand similar thing happened to George Sudarshan for quantum optics prize. Although he did his work independently and simultaneously with Glauber, he made a mistake of giving reference to Glauber’s work and Glauber did not give reference to Sudarshan’s work! I guess physicists have the same human frailty as other human beings!! There are examples of nicety also. S. N. Bose , being from a developing (previously called underdeveloped!) country had hard time publishing his work on quantum statistics. So he sent his manuscript to Einstein, who improved it , got it published and gave full credit to Bose. So it is known as Bose -Einstein statistics rather than just Einstein statistics and also the word Bosons rather than Einsteinons!

    1. Corrections to my comment: Sorry to have misspelt Englert’s name. Also I did not mean Englert, Brout and Higgs wrote one paper together which Guralnik et al. quoted.

        1. I think that the Nobel folks mostly used BEH on the posters. I have to run teach a class, so I can’t look. But both for priority (B&E were before Higgs by a couple of weeks, I think) and for alphabetical reasons, the mechanism ought to be, at the least, BEH. Many people may choose to add another several letters.

  8. “… But at least Guralnik lived long enough to learn, as Brout sadly did not, that his ideas were realized in nature, and to see the consequences of these ideas in real data. In the end, that’s the real prize, and one that no human can award.”

    Well said, Professor.

    Acceptance and validation of one’s idea through his/her own peers and the test of time is the “prize”. But, the “high” that comes when that “light” comes on in your mind with the realization of a subtle concept, after years of work, that’s the reward and it is priceless.

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