Higgs Boson and what constitutes True Science
by K P Prabhakaran Nair on 06 Jul 2012 14 Comments

With Wednesday’s announcement of the latest findings in the search for the Higgs Boson, the elusive particle is on everyone’s mind, not only those who read Science, but newspapers as well. This kind of “fame” is rather rare, even for important discoveries. The Higgs Boson has been called, or perhaps miscalled, the “GOD Particle”. That is why it has become a news sensation.


This is what makes the discovery as famous as the decoding of the double helix (structure of the DNA, the basic building block of life) by the Watson-Crick duo in Cambridge, England. Crick was a British citizen who later became an American citizen and delved into Indian mysticism during the last phase of his life. The discovery unravelled the meaning of life and opened up an entirely new chapter on molecular biology and biotechnology (which is even being misused for pecuniary purposes, as in the case of genetically modified crops). 


For most people, it would be very difficult to understand the real significance of this epoch-making discovery. For sure, it would give a new meaning to the evolution of the universe in the months to come. Perhaps that is also the reason why someone thoughtfully gave it the name “God Particle”. I would venture to add that the discovery comes closest to Indian mysticism, where the thoughts of our rishis could breach the barriers of time and space.


Without going into much scientific discourse, I would like to say that the term “Higgs” derives from the name of Dr Peter Higgs, an 82 year old particle physicist who spent a lifetime of research at the Edinburgh University, Scotland. But, the more interesting question is why the term “Boson” as well?


Boson derives its name from the late Dr Satyendra Bose, born in the British colonial era in the then Calcutta (now Kolkata) who was a lecturer in Physics both at the University of Calcutta and University of Dhaka. In 1924, he sent a research paper to Albert Einstein, describing a statistical model that eventually led to the discovery of what is known as the Bose-Einstein “condensate phenomenon”.


This research paper laid the basis for describing the two fundamental classes of sub-atomic particles – bosons, named after Satyendra Bose, and fermions, named after the famous Italian Physicist Enrico Fermi, who received a Nobel Prize, which, Satyendra Bose which did not. In 1974 Bose died, without receiving the kind of global scientific recognition that he so very richly deserved. Naturally then, it comes as no surprise that some in the West are already trying to ‘remove’ the Boson from the Higgs Boson particle, to push Bose back to obscurity. It is both improper and unfair.


The above stated facts bring me to the most crucial question, what is True Science, and, what decides its true recognition? Though Albert Einstein must be praised, in retrospect, for giving due credit to Bose’s theory, India did not (except for a very belated Padma Vibhushan after thirty years following his great discovery, though so many undeserving politicians, bureaucrats and so-called “scientists” manage this much faster through political patronage). For this kind of epoch-making discovery, Bose so very richly deserves a Bharat Ratna posthumously, an honour for which some very undeserving “so-called” scientists are aspiring.


Einstein realized that Bose’s paper had profound implications for physics. In fact, this paper was published in a German journal in German language, not in a famous science journal like “Nature”, which invariably publishes research leading to the Nobel Prize (including the discovery of the structure of DNA), published in English language. The important point to be noted, according to me, is that Bose never did win the Nobel Prize, though his theory had such profound implications for Physics. Now he passes victoriously into immortality, almost a century later. But, the crucial point is that the Nobel Prize eluded Bose.


Does an Indian have to become an American or a European to win a Nobel?


Science and the West are largely synonymous and coeval, and they are words which have far-reaching meaning and implications. If one looks critically at the list of “Indians” who won the Nobel Prize in Science, there are none barring C.V. Raman, though he was doubtless greatly sponsored and supported by his European counterparts.


We in India have this distasteful habit of blowing our trumpets when an American Indian gets or shares a Nobel Prize. Take the case of late Dr Har Gobind Khorana (my teacher in Chemistry when this author was pursuing his doctoral research starting 1962 at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, and out of sheer disgust left the institute to take up a Post Doctoral Fellowship in Canada). Anyway, Khorana’s research on artificially synthesizing a gene, on the heels of the work of Watson and Crick, won him a Nobel Prize in 1968. But, by then he had an American wife and was an American citizen.


Take the case of Dr Chandrasekhar, the astrophysicist, and the story repeats. Or take the most recent case of Dr Venkatraman who shared the Nobel for research on ribosome. Again, a born Indian, who later became an American and married an American Jew.


Then there are cases like Dr George Sudarshan, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Texas University, who challenged Einstein’s theory, was thrice nominated for the Nobel Prize, but missed it (actually was denied it is the most appropriate term) every time. The main distinction between the others and Dr Sudarshan is that the latter stubbornly believed and practiced his “Indian-ness” with frequent visits to India with his Indian wife, though one is told that he too buckled at some stage and became an American citizen.  


Yet, we in India celebrate so very hugely when the “no Indians” get the Nobel Prize, as if they are “truly” Indians! I know one English language newspaper in the south which went to such an extent of celebration of Venkatraman’s shared Nobel that it even eulogised his love for classical Tamil music!! 


The lesson from the Higgs Boson discovery is that we know so little of life, yet we mistakenly think we know everything. Go back to the Rig Veda, you will understand what I am trying to say.


Epilogue: This author’s name was short-listed from over 3500 nominations from all over the world for the very prestigious US$1 million “Rolex Award for Enterprise”, for his revolutionary soil management technique, now globally known as “The Nutrient Buffer Power Concept”. After two screenings and a personal interview by a senior researcher of the Rolex Foundation, who came down from Geneva to interview the author, they last week in London announced the names of an American, an Australian, a Russian, a Kenyan and a Columbian as winners. India, indeed the Asian continent, were excluded altogether.


Prof. K.P. Prabhakaran Nair is a Kerala-based international agricultural scientist

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