Wichita State University physics director Nickolas Solomey, who spent seven years at CERN, says the discovery of the Higgs could take a long time to fully understand, but that it could lead to groundbreaking technologies.
In the pursuit of seemingly infinite questions, there can only be more understanding.
That was the prevailing sentiment of physicist Nickolas Solomey on Wednesday after the European Center for Nuclear Research — better known as CERN — announced the likely discovery of the Higgs boson, a particle that scientists at the Geneva, Switzerland-based research facility believe could unlock some of the answers to our universe’s origin.
The Higgs, which until now had been purely theoretical, is regarded as key to understanding why matter has mass, which combines with gravity to give all objects weight. The particle’s existence is considered fundamental to the creation of the universe.
“One question is that now that we know there is this all-permeating Higgs field … where did it come from?” asked Solomey, the director of physics at Wichita State University since 2007. “How does it act? Maybe once we know that we can start to use it.”
Solomey has several close ties to the half-century-long saga that ended Wednesday and began with a theory from Scottish scientist Peter Higgs and others in 1964 that such a particle existed.
The Higgs boson’s commonly used nickname in popular culture — the “God particle” — was coined by Solomey’s close friend Leon Lederman, in the title of Lederman’s popular book on particle physics, “The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?”
The nickname is cringe-inducing for most scientists because it indicates the particle’s discovery might tell us the genesis of creation. Solomey chuckled at its reference on Wednesday. Lederman recruited Solomey away from the University of Chicago to come work at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1999.
“Leon just needed a catchy title for his book,” Solomey said. “I know he regrets it. We’ve known each other for a long time.”