God Particle: Higgs Boson Has A 'Bose' Within, The Unsung Indian Connection

"Higgs" is ascribed to Peter, but does anyone wonder how "boson" came about? The word doesn't have any European lineage, but rather owes its name to an Indian physicist by name Satyendra Nath Bose.


With Wednesday's announcement pointing to the existence of the ever elusive sub-atomic particle Higgs boson, at least in theory, scientists at the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) took another crucial step forward in understanding how the universe was formed.

While scientists are yet to confirm whether the new particle is indeed the long sought-after Higgs boson, also called the God Particle, everyone knows that 'Higgs' is derived from Scottish physicist Peter Higgs, who in 1964 did the theoretical groundwork for the presence of the mysterious particle.

In the Standard Model of particle physics, the Higgs boson is a hypothetical elementary particle that belongs to a class of particles known as bosons, characterized by an integer value of their spin quantum number. The term boson is related to the forgotten Indian contribution to the discovery. It owes its name to Satyendra Nath Bose, an Indian physicist from Kolkata, whose pioneering work in the field in the early 1920s changed the way particle physics had been approached.

Bose, along with another noted Indian scientist, Meghnad Saha, was known for establishing the modern theoretical physics in India. Gifted with a rare combination of kaleidoscopic versatility and evergreen vivacity, Bose worked in as diverse fields as chemistry, mineralogy, biology, soil science, philosophy, archaeology, the fine arts, literature and languages.

Born in 1894, Bose specialized in mathematical physics. He became a lecturer at the University of Calcutta in 1916 and joined the Dhaka University as Professor of Physics in 1921. While teaching the theory of radiation and ultraviolet catastrophe at the University of Dhaka, Bose attempted to show his students that the predicted results did not match the existing derivations of Planck's radiation law. He made a simple mistake, which accidentally gave rise to a third prediction that produced accurate results! He derived Planck's blackbody radiation law without the use of classical electrodynamics as Planck himself had done. He later developed a logically satisfactory derivation based entirely on Einstein's photon concept and sent his paper on quantum statistics to a British journal, which refused to publish it, calling it erroneous.

Rejection of his paper might have frustrated Bose but he sent it to Albert Einstein himself, with a request to arrange its publication in 'Zeitschrift für Physik'. In his letter dated June 4, 1924,  Bose wrote, according to Vigyan Prasar:

I have ventured to send you the accompanying article for your perusal and opinion. I am anxious to know what you think of it. You will see that I have tried to deduce the coefficient 8p v2/c3 in Plank's Law independent of classical electrodynamics, only assuming that the elementary regions in the phase-space has the content h3. I do not know sufficient German to translate the paper. If you think the paper worth publication I shall be grateful if you arrange for its publication in Zeitschrift für Physic.

Though a complete stranger to you, I do not feel any hesitation in making such a request. Because we are all your pupils though profiting only by your teachings through your writings. I do not know whether you still remember that somebody from Calcutta asked your permission to translate your papers on Relativity in English. You acceded to the request. The book has since published. I was the one who translated your paper on Generalised Relativity.

Einstein immediately grasped the immense significance of Bose's paper, translated it into German and published it in the August 1924 issue of Zeitschrift für Physik under the title, Plancksgesetz Lichtquantenhypothese (the English title was Planck's Law and Light Quantum Hypothesis). He also added the following comment to Bose's article:

Bose's derivative of Planck's formula appears to me to be an important step forward. The method used here gives also the quantum theory of an ideal gas, as I shall show elsewhere.

Einstein later applied Bose's method to give the theory of the ideal quantum gas, and predicted the phenomenon of Bose-Einstein condensation that became a basis of quantum mechanics.

As Amit Chaudhuri explains in The Guardian, Einstein saw that it had profound implications for physics; that it had opened the way for this subatomic particle, which he named, after his Indian collaborator, 'boson'.

Bose's discovery, along with its subsequent development by the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, provided the basis of categorizing the fundamental particles into two groups - bosons after Bose and fermions after Fermi.

Bosons include particles like photons and mesons. A single atom can be tracked, but not a single photon. When a Bose-Einstein Condensate is performed, all the individual atoms disappear. What emerge instead are the subatomic particles, all becoming bosons.

The Human Touch Of Chemistry has this to say:

One kind of boson is the Higgs boson. It is described by physicists in theory, but none has ever seen one yet. So physicists have built a huge special machine called the Large Hadron Collider. It is a circular tunnel 27 km underneath the Swiss mountains, and cost $9 billion to build. All to find a tiny particle, predicted by a mistake!

In the sequel to Bose's great input to the discovery, there are some other significant contributions from India as well. Scientists from Delhi University teamed up with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in the development of 1,000 silicon microstrip detectors for the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment. While scientists from Kolkata's Saha Institute Of Nuclear Physics (SINP), Panjab University and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research assisted with equipment and research.

The Indian groups participated in the detector fabrication in two areas - silicon strip detector based preshower detector (Si-PSD) and plastic scintillator based outer hadron calorimeter (HO). These detectors were manufactured in India and taken to CERN to be installed as part of the CMS detector.

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