Professor Gerald Guralnik: Physicist regarded as one of the originators of the ideas confirmed by the discovery last year of the Higgs boson

 

Martin Weil
Monday 12 May 2014 19:09
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Gerald Guralnik was among the handful of physicists regarded as originators of the ideas that were confirmed by the discovery of the Higgs boson. In 2012, scientists announced the discovery of the long-sought particle believed necessary to their best theory of the ultimate workings of the universe. It was named for Peter Higgs, though he was only one of six physicists credited with laying the groundwork.

One of the six was Guralnik, a physics professor at Brown University in Providence, who with two colleagues in August 1964 published what is regarded as one of the most significant scientific papers of the past 50 years, in Physical Review Letters. Guralnik said the paper was the first in a series that laid the cornerstone of the "Standard Model" of particle interactions and led to the prediction of the Higgs boson.

The Standard Model is scientists' best way of describing particle interactions, and confirmation of the model required proof of the existence of the Higgs, the particle that gives mass to many other particles. Two related papers were published in the same issue, one of them by Higgs. Guralnik said his paper was not enthusiastically received; the Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg, he said, "thought these ideas were junk." Others also recommended that for the sake of his career, he move on to other topics. "I wisely obeyed," he said.

When Higgs was awarded the Nobel Prize last year, Guralnik described himself as "a little hurt". But he said he was pleased at the recognition of the work all six scientists had done in the three papers. He was not without personal recognition, however: he and the other surviving authors shared in the 2010 JJ Sakurai prize for theoretical particle physics.

He was born in 1936 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where his parents had an accounting business. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received a doctorate from Harvard. He conducted research at Imperial College in London before joining the Brown faculty in 1967 as an assistant professor.

In an interview last year, Guralnik indicated areas of research he was pursuing and expressed satisfaction with what he was doing. At its highest levels, theoretical physics is often considered to be a field for young people. "Being able to work as a theoretical physicist at my age is a great privilege," he said.

Gerald Stanford Guralnik, physicist: born Cedar Falls, Iowa 17 September 1936; married Susan Ellovich (one son); died Providence, Rhode Island 26 April 2014.

© The Washington Post

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