Homer Simpson has been called a lot of things over The Simpsons’ 26 years on the air, and most of them have been negative. Somehow, showers of “physics super genius” praise haven’t often fallen on the character. But it looks like Homer was well ahead of the scientific curve when he put together an equation that came relatively close to predicting the mass of the Higgs boson particle, over 14 years before it was officially discovered. And I can’t even figure out the circumference of a Duff can.
The second episode of Season 10, “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” saw Homer following in the inventive footsteps of Thomas Edison. And while there hasn’t been any progress on his idea for a shotgun that shoots makeup, another of Homer’s ideas in the episode is related to one of the most important discoveries in particle physics. Take a look at the image below, particularly the first equation.
As it happens, the formula’s solution isn’t exactly right, but it’s close enough to be noteworthy. Especially for an animated series on Fox. (That’s a cheap jab, but it’s widely known that both The Simpsons and sister series Futurama are full of quirky math and science.) If we’re being real, of course, Homer didn’t actually do the predicting. That part can really be attributed to Simpsons writer and mathematician David S. Cohen, who worked with an old classmate and Columbia University astronomer David Schiminovich.
If you’re looking for a deeper explanation into the equation – which incorporates the speed of light, the gravitational constant and the Planck constant – check out this bit from physicist Simon Singh’s excellent book The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets.
If you look up these numbers and plug them into the equation, it predicts a mass of 775 giga-electron-volts (GeV), which is substantially higher than the 125 GeV estimate that emerged when the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012. Nevertheless, 775 GeV was not a bad guess, particularly bearing in mind that Homer is an amateur inventor and he performed this calculation fourteen years before the physicists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, tracked down the elusive particle.
Not too shabby for a guy that some people think is dead, right? So the next time you catch this episode on FXX, you might not be so quick to make fun of Homer’s inventions. (Except for the shotgun.) Head here to see a few times where Bart was the prophetic one in the family.