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

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

PPC Co-Ordinator – Permanent - West Sussex – £24-£30k

£24000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Are you a Marketin...

Senior Asset Manager

£70000 - £75000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Katie Robinson +44 (...

Special Needs Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: Special needs teachers required! Sh...

EBD Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: EBD teachers re West Midlands

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor