Professor Peter Higgs profile: Grandfather is now global celebrity as creator of theory behind 'God particle'

 

Professor Peter Higgs has journeyed to prominence along with the famous particle that bears his name.

Now at the age of 84, he is fast becoming a global celebrity as creator of the theory behind the "God particle".

But recognition was a long time in coming: the quiet physicist has been waiting for science to catch up with his ground-breaking ideas since 1964.

It was in that year he dreamed up the concept after a moment of inspiration while walking in the Cairngorms.

Two scientific papers followed, the second of which was initially rejected and then finally published in the respected journal Physical Review Letters.

Prof Higgs's groundbreaking proposal was that particles acquire mass by interacting with an all-pervading field spread throughout the universe. The more they interact, the more massive and heavy they become.

A "boson" particle was needed to carry and transmit the effect of the field.

His concept sparked a 40 year hunt for the Higgs boson which culminated last July when a team from the European nuclear research facility at Cern in Geneva announced the detection of a particle that fitted the description of the elusive Higgs.

Scientists used the world's biggest atom smashing machine, the £2.6 billion Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border, to track down the missing particle.

Peter Higgs was born in Newcastle in 1929, the son of a BBC sound engineer.

After his family moved to Bristol, he proved a brilliant pupil at Cotham Grammar School before going on to read theoretical physics at King's College London.

He was awarded first class honours in 1950, and after failing to secure a lectureship at King's College, set off for Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.

Prof Higgs retired from this post in 2006 and assumed the title of emeritus professor.

His contribution to physics has long been recognised within the scientific world - with eight honorary degrees and dozens of academic prizes since the 1980s.

Never one to blow his own trumpet, the scientist is described by friends and colleagues as "very unassuming" and shy.

Some believe his retiring nature may even have held back his career.

But despite his best efforts to keep a low profile, he now finds himself in the spotlight: autograph hunters have even started to approach him in the street.

Last year he missed out on a Nobel prize but the professor was made a Companion of Honour in the New Year Honours list.

The accolade confers no title but only a select group are rewarded with it for achievements in the arts, literature, music, science, politics, industry, or religion.

Prof Higgs remained typically humble when his honour was announced. "It's very nice to be right sometimes," he said.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games