Higgs boson scientists win Nobel prize in physics


The Nobel committee decided Englert and Higgs should jointly take the accolade for the boson, discovered at Cern in 2012

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Two scientists have won the Nobel prize in physics for their work on the theory of the Higgs boson.

Peter Higgs, from the UK, and Francois Englert from Belgium, share the prize.

In the 1960s, they were among several physicists who proposed a mechanism to explain why the most basic building blocks of the Universe have mass.

The mechanism predicts a particle - the Higgs boson - which was finally discovered in 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, in Switzerland.

Start Quote

"I am overwhelmed to receive this award... I would also like to congratulate all those who have contributed to the discovery of this new particle”

End Quote Peter Higgs Emeritus professor of theoretical physics, University of Edinburgh

"This year's prize is about something small that makes all the difference," said Staffan Normark, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

'On holiday'

Prof Higgs is renowned for shying away from the limelight, and he could not be located for interview in the immediate aftermath of the announcement.

"He's gone on holiday without a phone," his Edinburgh University physics colleague Alan Walker told the BBC, adding that Higgs had also been unwell.

"He is taking a break from all of this, taking some time to relax, because he knows when he comes back he'll have to face up to a media storm."

But the university released a prepared statement from Higgs, 84, who is an emeritus professor of theoretical physics:

"I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy," he said.

The BBC's David Shukman explains exactly what the Higgs boson is

"I would also like to congratulate all those who have contributed to the discovery of this new particle and to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support.

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

Francois Englert, 80, said he was "very happy" to win the award, speaking at the ceremony via phone link.

"At first I thought I didn't have [the prize] because I didn't see the announcement," he told the committee, after their news conference was delayed by more than an hour.

Higgs was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, but it was in Edinburgh in 1964 that he had his big idea - an explanation of why the matter in the Universe has substance, or mass.

His theory involved a missing particle in the Standard Model of physics, which has come to be known as the Higgs boson.

Start Quote

The discovery last year at Cern of a particle with the correct properties confirms [the Higgs] prediction and is a triumph for theory”

End Quote Prof Stephen Hawking

Within weeks, Francois Englert had independently published his own, similar theory, alongside his now deceased colleague Robert Brout.

Three other physicists - Gerald Guralnik, Tom Kibble and Carl Hagen - also made key contributions to the theory, and spoke at the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012.

Hagen has long argued for the name of the particle to be changed, protesting at the "rock star" status in which Higgs is held.

And Higgs, too, has expressed his discomfort with the attention he has received, preferring to call the particle "the scalar boson".

In a statement on Tuesday, Kibble, of Imperial College London, said he was "glad" the Nobel prize had gone to the work of Higgs and Englert.

"My two collaborators, Gerald Guralnik and Carl Hagen, and I contributed to that discovery, but our paper was unquestionably the last of the three to be published.

"It is therefore no surprise that the Swedish Academy felt unable to include us, constrained as they are by a self-imposed rule that the prize cannot be shared by more than three people.

"My sincere congratulations go to the two prize winners, Francois Englert and Peter Higgs."

And the renowned physicist Prof Stephen Hawking added his praise: "In the early 60s, theorists were struggling to understand why particles have mass. Peter Higgs and Francois Englert proposed a mechanism called symmetry breaking. This mechanism also predicted a massive particle, the Higgs boson. The discovery last year at Cern of a particle with the correct properties confirms this prediction and is a triumph for theory."

Cern director general Rolf Heuer joins physicists celebrating the Nobel Prize announcement Cern director general Rolf Heuer joined physicists celebrating the announcement

Proving the theory correct took almost half a century and involved creating the biggest and most sophisticated machine humankind has ever built.

The LHC at Cern lies in a circular tunnel 27km (17 miles) round. It is so big it is partly in Switzerland, partly in France. It took 10 years and thousands of scientists and engineers to build it.

Cern director general Rolf Heuer said he was "thrilled" that this year's prize had gone to particle physics.

The man behind the boson - Peter Higgs talks to BBC Scotland

"The discovery of the Higgs boson at Cern... marks the culmination of decades of intellectual effort by many people around the world," he commented.

The Nobel prizes - which also cover chemistry, medicine, literature, peace and economics - are valued at 8m Swedish krona (£775,000; $1.2m). Laureates also receive a medal and a diploma.

The official citation for Englert and Higgs read: "For the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the Atlas and CMS experiments at Cern's Large Hadron Collider".

David Willetts, UK minister for universities and science, said the award was "an incredible endorsement of the quality of UK science".

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "This brilliant achievement is richly deserved recognition of Peter Higgs' lifetime of dedicated research and his passion for science.

"It is also a credit to the world-leading British universities in which this research was carried out.

"It took nearly 50 years and thousands of great minds to discover the Higgs boson after Prof Higgs proposed it, and he and all those people should be extremely proud."

Best explanation of Higgs boson?
Image shows room full of people Scientists' best theory for why different things have mass is the "Higgs field" - where mass can be seen as a measure of the resistance to movement. The "Higgs field" is shown here as a room of physicists chatting among themselves.
Room full of people, new scientist enters the room A well-known scientist walks into the room and causes a bit of a stir - attracting admirers with each step and interacting strongly with them - signing autographs and stopping to chat.
Crowd gathers round well-known scientist As she becomes surrounded by admiring fans, she finds it harder to move across the room - in this analogy, she acquires mass due to the "field" of fans, with each fan acting like a single Higgs boson.
Two crowds around different scientists, one big, one small If a less popular scientist enters the room, only a small crowd gathers, with no-one clamouring for attention. He finds it easier to move across the room - by analogy, his interaction with the bosons is lower, and so he has a lower mass.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Wonderful stuff .......

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Every time they give a Nobel Peace Prize to somebody just for becoming US President and promising to close Guantanamo Bay they belittle the amazing recognition the prize is supposed to infer.

    Will you still downvote me if they start giving them away in special packs of breakfast cereal?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    3. andy1005

    If you dedicate all your scientific resources to one field, you'll surely end up with a crisis in other areas because you decided it wasn't relevant.

    Interestingly enough projects like the LHC have improved technology in other fields, or did you forget that Sir Tim Berners-Lee worked at Cern when he invented the World Wide Web that you used to post that comment?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    This has to be the least surprising announcement in science for years! Of course they've won it, nothing else has come close to having such a significant impact on physics in recent years. Excellent work, well deserved reward!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I nominate Idiotbox for the Noble Troll Award...

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    3. andy1005

    You do realise the fact we can conduct this conversation is entirely (on several points) due to this "pointless", "irrelevant" "waste of money"?

    I remember the good old days"

    Yes, and life expectancy and quality of life were so much better in those days before scientists started "meddling"!

    has not even been proved??"

    Very littel in science is "proven".

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Congratulations - and this from a university that doesn't have tuition fees, when we've been told by Westminster politicians the need to fleece our children out of £9.5k.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    They haven't found his Bosun have they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    This is the most important scientific discovery in Physics in decades, it's good to see that research in science is alive and kicking!

    At least the Noble Prize for Physics is not in the same sorry state of affairs as the Noble PEACE Prize.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    They don't deserve this prize, trying to claim credit for the work of God. Science in general is for people with nothing better to do. It's pointless & matters little for most of us.

    And I've yet to see any proof their ideas are actually valid.

    The Nobel prizes are nothing but ego boosting rubbish, sorry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    @3 Andy

    Oh we need a new source of Energy! How very astute of you. But it shouldn't take too long to research you say? Well ofcourse! Anything else you would like us to magic up while we're at it?

    Just because you do not fully understand something doesn't make it an irrelevant, pointless, waste of money.

    This is cracking news and very well deserved. Congratulations to the both of them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Well done and congratulations. Recognition is given to societies best and brightest but almost always on a smaller scale with little promotion. Sadly society is all too consumed with "heroes" of no value providers of "entertainment" who contribute nothing to the world, the sports "stars" singers , actors or ubiquitous "celebrities" obsessed only with a cash grab from a willing, ignorant public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Lets keep in mind CERN have not confirmed the Higgs particle, rather they only have a 'candidate', which is a pretty meaningless statement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Mr.Higgs (and his team) deserves this and more. Anyone who takes giant strides in helping us understand the universe more is doing a great job.

    P.S. How long before someone mentions R*ligion?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    "Things were better before technology and medicine - I remember the good old days."

    How old are you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    @6 Geoffrey

    I'll work on the principle that it is a theory that fits the best available evidence. Now if you have a better hypothesis, now is your time to shine!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Meddling in things we ought not to concern ourselves about. Science and medicine are blasphemous! Things were better before technology and medicine - I remember the good old days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    How exactly do you win a nobel prize for something that has not even been proved?? even if you found the higgs you could still not prove the theory as it cannot be replicated or understood. For the uneducated... scientists do not know what turns energy into solid matter and believe the higgs is the key ingredient...alas the universe is an illusion that they deny...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Wonderful news, congratulations to them both. Peter Higgs is a great example of why we should be investing in science, Britain has always been a world leader in physics and that needs to continue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Well done to them both! If only we had more R&D in this country.


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