Gerald S. Guralnik, an American physicist who was among the handful of scientists regarded as originators of the ideas that were ultimately and triumphantly confirmed by the discovery of the celebrated Higgs boson, died April 26 in Providence, R.I. He was 77.
The cause was a heart attack, said his son, Zachary Guralnik.
In 2012, scientists announced the discovery of the long-sought particle believed necessary to their best theory of the ultimate workings of the universe. Even before that elusive particle was detected, it had been named for British physicist Peter Higgs.
In the world of physics, Higgs was regarded as undeniably deserving of the honor. But it was also true that in the 1960s, he was just one of six physicists credited with laying the groundwork for what has become known as the Higgs theory.
One of the six was Dr. Guralnik, a physics professor at Brown University in Providence.
Speaking with an interviewer from Brown, Dr. Guralnik described what is regarded as one of the most significant scientific papers of the past 50 years. He and two colleagues published it Aug. 24, 1964, in the science journal Physical Review Letters.
Dr. Guralnik said the paper was the first in a series that laid the cornerstone of the “Standard Model” of particle interactions and led to 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.
When it was published, Dr. Guralnik said, the paper was without precedent. Surprisingly, he said, two other papers, differing from his but related to it, were published in the same issue of the journal in which his appeared. One of those papers was written by Higgs.
Dr. Guralnik said his paper was not enthusiastically received. He recalled the reaction of the Nobel physics laureate Werner Heisenberg, for whom the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is named. 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.
Over the years, he worked on many other problems, all rewarding, he said, but none that ever achieved the fundamental importance of “my early adventures.”
At most, three people can receive the Nobel in the same field in the same year. When the 2013 prize went to Higgs, it was shared by François Englert, an author of one of the other seminal 1964 papers. Robert Brout, who collaborated with Englert, had died, and the Nobel is not awarded posthumously. It is almost impossible to know why any of the other physicists may have been excluded from the honor.
The Brown Daily Herald, a student newspaper, said Dr. Guralnik had described himself at the time the Nobel was announced as “a little hurt” at not receiving the prize. But he said he was pleased at the recognition of the work all six scientists had done in the three papers.
Dr. Guralnik was not without personal recognition. He and the other surviving authors shared in the 2010 J.J. Sakurai prize for theoretical particle physics.
Gerald Stanford Guralnik was born Sept. 17, 1936, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where his parents had an accounting business. He was a 1958 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received a doctorate from Harvard University in 1964. He conducted research at Imperial College London before joining the Brown faculty in 1967 as an assistant professor.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife, the former Susan Ellovich; a sister; and two grandchildren.
In an interview last year, Dr. Guralnik indicated areas of research that 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.