Nobel Prize for Physics goes to Higgs boson pioneers Profs Peter Higgs and François Englert

8 Oct 2013

View of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland

British physicist Prof Peter Higgs and Belgian physicist Prof François Englert have won this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics in honour of their theoretical discovery of the Higgs mechanism. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has jointly awarded the the duo in recognition of their theory of how particles acquire mass.

The winners were announced today in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Big Bang Theory

The organisation said that the two physicists jointly won the 2013 prize in honor of their “theoretical discovery of a mechanism” that has paved the way for future generations of scientists to carry out research.

Not only is CERN the place where the world wide web was born, but it is where the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is based. That’s where researchers have been smashing atoms in the particle collider in order to find out when the universe began and to understand the dark matter, or dark energy, that’s out there.

Hark back to 4 July 2012 when scientists at CERN were almost certain that they had confirmed the existence of the elusive Higgs boson particle. Around that time, managed to get an exclusive with Prof Steve Myers, the Belfast, Northern Ireland-born man, who was heading up the accelerators and technology at the LHC.

CERN’s particle collider, LHC, is one of the largest and the most complex machines ever constructed by humans.

Two research groups of some 3,000 scientists each – ATLAS and CMS – managed to extract the Higgs particle from billions of particle collisions in the LHC.

This particle could be the key to figuring out the birth of the universe, helping future scientists build upon the discovery made by Higgs and Englert.

The awarded theory is a central part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said today that Higgs and Englert have contributed to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles.

“This recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.”

It was in the year 1964 that Higgs, based at the University of Edinburgh, and Englert, based at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, separately postulated the existence of the fundamental Higgs particle.  

Peter Higgs is an honorary fellow of the Institute of Physics (IOP) and 1997 winner of the Dirac Medal.

Dr Frances Saunders, president of the Institute of Physics (IOP), said this afternoon following the Nobel Prize announcement, that the work undertaken to discover the Higgs – from the original theories to the construction of the world’s most powerful particle-smasher – has led to a very exciting and productive period in physics research.

“It has been a long journey but one that has inspired a generation to engage with the subject.”

With the existence of the Higgs boson confirmed, explaining why the fundamental building blocks of nature acquire mass, Saunders said that we could now move on to the next challenges to our understanding such as the phenomena of dark matter and quantum gravity.

To mark the occasion, IOP Scotland is now launching a new bi-annual competition that will be open to 10 to 15-year-olds in Scottish schools.

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn has also congratulated Englert and Higgs for winning the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

“This is recognition of the contribution made to modern physics by François Englert and Peter Higgs.”

Geoghegan-Quinn paid tribute to the “thousands of scientists” who have worked relentlessly at CERN over many years to detect this elusive particle.

“EU-funded research has contributed to the research at CERN, including enabling the processing of the huge amounts of data from the Large Hadron Collider experiments that confirmed the predictions,” she said.

Interestingly, physics was the prize area that Alfred Nobel mentioned first in his will.

Apparently, at the end of the 19th century, many people considered physics as the foremost of the sciences.

Alfred Nobel’s own research was also closely tied to physics.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic