Nobel Prize for Higgs and Englert

by Nicholas Mee on October 8, 2013

The Ultimate Prize

The Nobel Prize committee has awarded the 2013 Prize in Physics to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert for their work almost 50 years ago which led to the discovery of the Higgs boson by the Large Hadron Collider.

The winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics      Left: Peter Higgs Right: Francois Englert

Just over a year ago on 4 July 2012 the world awaited a momentous announcement from CERN in Switzerland. Breaking news from the Large Hadron Collider was streamed live in a webcast. Results from both detectors the CMS and ATLAS detectors independently showed that a new particle had been detected with a mass of around 125 GeV.

I Think We Have It!

At the end of the two hour-long talks, with excitement mounting director general Rolf Heuer summed up with the words: ‘If I was a layman, I would say I think we have it – you agree?’, and the lecture theatre erupted with cheers and rapturous applause. Peter Higgs, who was in the audience, took off his glasses and appeared to brush away a tear.

Heuer went on to say: “We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature. The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.”

The Higgs Boson

Peter Higgs had predicted the existence of the particle in a paper in 1964. Other physicists later borrowed his name and attached it to the proposed new particle giving us the Higgs boson. Belgian theorists Francois Englert and Robert Brout independently published closely related ideas a few months earlier. Sadly, Robert Brout did not live to see the discovery of the Higgs boson or the Nobel Prize award as he died in 2011.

Modern physics is built on the work of many researchers. There is rivalry between different teams, but progress would be impossible without widespread collaboration and the generous sharing of ideas. Nobel Prizes are limited to at most three winners, which is unfortunate as there is another group of physicists who deserve credit for independently developing the same ideas as Higgs and Englert. They are a research team made up of British theorist Tom Kibble and two Americans Richard Hagen and Gerald Guralnik. The work of all these particle physicists was built on earlier ideas that were developed by solid state physicists including the Russian theorist Lev Landau and the American Philip Anderson.

More Information

For a thorough investigation of the significance of the Higgs boson, take a look at my book: Higgs Force: Cosmic Symmetry Shattered.

Further information, illustrated with computer generated animations, is available in the CD-ROM companion: Higgs Force Interactive.

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