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Diego Maza, Professor at department de Physics and Applied Mathematics

It was a foregone conclusion...

Fri, 11 Oct 2013 13:59:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

This seems to be the reflection of the majority of the science-related news community. It is true that after a year in which the Higgs boson has been talked about ad nauseam (with uneven quality, it must be said), it was difficult not to expect this outcome. However, what has surprised most of the enthusiasts in these topics is the name of the second winner, François Englert, who has always been rather more unnoticed by the mass media, although his work has been considerably praised and awarded by the international academic community . Both octogenarians - both Higgs and Englert have already passed their eightieth birthdays - are undoubtedly privileged theoretical physicists because they have been able to live to see their speculations confirmed, a much greater award if possible, for the efforts of their work.

The road has certainly not been an easy one. The intricacies of their theories, the complexity of the mathematical system they developed to demonstrate their results have required decades to pass before they could reach the longed-for experimental demonstration, a prerequisite for the Nobel Prize committee to consider their results. Those decades were necessary to build a collaborative project like CERN, where thousands (yes, thousands, the expression is not a language licence ) of physicists and engineers have worked side by side to measure magnitudes that are far beyond any of our mundane experiences. If in Spain it is estimated that there are more than 50 million cell phones, the measurement area of the Large Hadron Collider (technical name of the measuring device) contains twice that issue -about 100 million- detectors to measure the residual product left by the protons that collide in front of it. And they are not exactly few, about 20 million such collisions occur per second between particles that are accelerated along a tunnel of just over 27 km in length. However, we could say that this is the easy part of the experiment if we take into account that the amount of information generated in these collisions is so brutal that hundreds of thousands of computers need to work for months to process it. It is therefore easy to assume why it has taken so long to verify the existence of the boson.

Despite such large numbers, it is striking that both Englert and Higgs have published their proposals and ideas in the journal /PhysicalReview Letters/, where each work must be no more than four pages long. This contrast inevitably leads me to reflect on how exquisite and careful one must be in the choice of words to convey an idea that goes far beyond mere mathematical formalism. A reflection that, inexorably, must highlight the sad irony that entails that award is published in the same pages where it is highlighted that Spain is at the bottom in reading comprehension and mathematical skill . Works such as those mentioned above show a B capacity for synthesis and communication, in spite of which, it is the reading ability of those who interpret them that will ultimately set in motion the machinery that ends in their verification. This capacity is reached after a long road whose goal is none other than to be able to make a small contribution that allows us to advance in the knowledge of nature. This task in today's Spain is not even a utopia: sources of funding are practically non-existent, absurd researcher replacement fees is applied, and because we do not have, we do not even have a valid interlocutor to organize and manage the great human heritage cultivated over the last few years, such as the longed-for State Agency of research. However, it does publish documents with dozens of pages (see where -probably due to my poor reading comprehension- I do not find ideas that condensed in four pages can nourish experiences such as the finding of the "Higgs".