How It Feels To Win A Bet Against Stephen Hawking

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In a recent interview, world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking revealed that the apparent discovery of the Higgs boson particle cost him $100 in a bet to a fellow physics professor. Guest host David Greene speaks with professor Gordon Kane of the University of Michigan about what it feels like to outsmart arguably the world's smartest man.


And let's turn from political to science. Researchers discovered what looks to be the elusive Higgs boson. It's a subatomic particle they've spent nearly 50 years searching for. So, this was special vindication for their efforts, and special vindication for one of the scientists who's been searching for the particle - a man named Gordy Kane. Kane won $100 in a bet with Stephen Hawking, arguably the world's smartest person alive today. Hawking admitted defeat on the BBC.

STEPHEN HAWKING: I had a bet with Gordon Kane of the Michigan University that the Higgs particle wouldn't be found. It seems I have just lost $100.

GREENE: That's Stephen Hawking, who, because of a medical condition, uses a machine to speak. He was smiling as he conceded. Now, the man who won the bet has his own impressive resume. He's a professor of physics at the University of Michigan. And Gordy Kane joins us. Welcome to the program.


GREENE: So, Professor Kane, before we get to your bet, we have our own bet that I hope you can help us settle. We were betting over whether a professor of physics could describe why this particle is important in just one sentence. Can you do it?

KANE: One sentence?

GREENE: In one sentence.

KANE: Because it completes the standard model of particle physics that took hundreds of people four centuries to develop, and it points to how to get a deeper understanding of our universe.

GREENE: I think you did it. This particle sounds pretty darn important. Well, you know, let's get to your bet now. Tell me the story of this bet with Stephen Hawking.

KANE: About a decade ago, I was a conference in Korea and Stephen was there. And we were sitting around a table, as I recall, with six or seven other physicists. And Stephen said I'll bet you that there is no Higgs boson. So, I immediately said I'll take that bet. Then when we arranged the details a little bit and settled on $100. And we had to make it sort of long-lived as a bet.

GREENE: When does he plan to pay you back? Has the check been cut?

KANE: Well, I think it's clear he will, but I haven't been directly contacted. And if he sent me a check, I might put it on my wall and not post it.


GREENE: Not cash, huh? You going to adjust for inflation?

KANE: We'll see how long he waits to send it.

GREENE: Gordy Kane is a professor of physics at the University of Michigan. He won a hundred bucks in a bet against Stephen Hawking last week after scientists finally found what they believe to be the Higgs boson after nearly a half century of searching. Professor Kane, thanks for talking to us.

KANE: You're welcome.

GREENE: And you're listening to NPR News.

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