Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Higgs Boson theorists win Nobel physics prize

Britain's Peter Higgs Higgs and Francois Englert of Belgium won the Nobel Prize on Tuesday for predicting the existence of the Higgs boson particle that explains how elementary matter attained the mass to form stars and planets.

Half a century after their original work, the new building block of nature was finally detected in 2012 at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) centre's giant, underground particle-smasher near Geneva.

The discovery was hailed as one of the most important in physics.

"I am overwhelmed to receive this award," Higgs said in a statement issued by the University of Edinburgh, where he has worked for many years.

"I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research."

The two scientists had been favourites to share the $1.25-million prize after their theoretical work was vindicated by the Cern experiments.

To find the elusive particle, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) had to pore over data from the wreckage of trillions of sub-atomic proton collisions.

Make-up of  the universe
The Higgs boson is the last piece of the Standard Model of physics that describes the fundamental make-up of the universe.

Some commentators – though not scientists – have called it the "God particle", for its role in turning the Big Bang into an ordered cosmos.

Higgs' and Englert's work shows how elementary particles inside atoms gain mass by interacting with an invisible field pervading all of space – and the more they interact, the heavier they become.

The particle associated with the field is the Higgs boson.

Asked how it felt to be a Nobel winner, Englert told reporters by phone link to Stockholm: "You may imagine that this is not very unpleasant, of course. I am very, very happy to have the recognition of this extraordinary award." 

Cern director general Rolf Heuer said he was "thrilled" that the Nobel prize had gone to particle physics.

He said the discovery of the Higgs boson at Cern last year marked "the culmination of decades of intellectual effort by many people around the world".

Building blocks
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the prize went to Higgs and Englert for work fundamental to describing how the universe is constructed.

"According to the Standard Model, everything, from flowers and people to stars and planets, consists of just a few building blocks: matter particles."

The will of Swedish dynamite millionaire Alfred Nobel limits the award to a maximum of three people.

Yet six scientists published relevant papers in 1964 and thousands more have worked to detect the Higgs at the LHC.

Englert (80) and his colleague Robert Brout – who died in 2011 – were first to publish; but 84-year-old Higgs followed just a couple of weeks later and was the first person to explicitly predict the existence of a new particle.

Similar proposals from American researchers Carl Hagen and Gerald Guralnik and Britain's Tom Kibble appeared shortly afterwards.– Reuters

Vote for an informed choice

We’re dropping the paywall this week so that everyone can access all our stories for free, and get the information they need in the run up to the local government elections. For the latest updates and political analysis, sign up to our daily elections newsletter.

If our coverage helps inform your decision, cast your vote for an informed public and join our subscriber community. Right now, a full year’s access is just R510, half the usual cost. Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.

Reuters
Guest Author

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Latest stories

Eskom to take ‘extraordinary measures’ to avoid load-shedding for elections

Stage four load-shedding rolled out to ensure the polls on Monday 1 November are energy secure

Khaya Koko: John Steenhuisen, please take a knee

The Democratic Alliance leader rebuking cricketer Quinton de Kock would be this election season’s greatest triumph

Paddy Harper: Will the Covid-19 cigarette ban come back to...

Flashbacks of nicotine deprivation and not poor service delivery may see a run on the polls on Monday

Eskom resorts to stage four load-shedding

Stage-four outages will continue until Friday after the loss of two units during the night, and three in total at Medupi, Kusile and Matla power plants tripping
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×