To boldy go... where no museum has gone before - and bring fundamental physics to the people

Stephen Hawking and Peter Higgs back launch of one of the most ambitious exhibitions in Science Museum's 150-year history

Science Editor

They are stellar names in the scientific firmament and today they sprinkled their stardust over the Science Museum in London on the eve of one of the most ambitious exhibitions in its 150-year history.

Stephen Hawking, the world's most famous living scientist, and Peter Higgs, whose name is synonymous with the most famous atomic particle, made separate public appearances at the museum to mark the opening of Collider, a bold endeavour to bring fundamental physics to the people.

The exhibition attempts to explain the highly complex machine at the heart of the search for the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that Professor Higgs first proposed in 1964 to explain why matter has mass.

The real Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is sited at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) in Geneva but now there is a far smaller and simplified version in central London which tells the story of how this most complicated and intricate of scientific instruments explores the fundamental building blocks of the Universe.

With his trademark wit, Professor Hawking said he was disappointed that the Higgs had been found, partly because life would be far more interesting as it would mean that the Standard Model of physics would have to be re-thought.

Click here to see more pictures from the exhibition

"But the discovery of the new particle came at a personal cost. I had a bet with Gordon Kane of Michigan University that the Higgs particle wouldn't be found. The Nobel Prize cost me $100," Professor Hawking said.

Professor Higgs, long retired from Edinburgh University, shared this year's Nobel Prize in Physics with Francois Englert of the Free University of Brussels who, independently of Higgs, carried out his own work on massive particles with his Brussels colleague Robert Brout, who died in 2011.

Professor Higgs, who disappeared for a solitary lunch when the Nobel committee was trying to telephone him about his award, was typically modest about the role of the Higgs mechanism, the process he devised to explain why some particles and objects are heavier than others - and why some have no mass at all.

Professor Peter Higgs at the Science Museum's 'Collider' exhibition in London (EPA) Professor Peter Higgs at the Science Museum's 'Collider' exhibition in London (EPA)
"I was quite worried at one time that the importance of the discovery of this particular particle was being overplayed because it was putting into the background all the other things that the LHC was supposed to do - and I thought that was not such a good idea," Professor Higgs said at a press preview of Collider.

He also said he would have liked to share his Nobel Prize with Tom Kibble of Imperial College London, who also published scientific papers in 1964 and 1967 predicting the existence of an invisible "force field" pervading the Universe that imparts mass to matter.

Professor Stephen Hawking during a talk at the Science Museum (PA) Professor Stephen Hawking during a talk at the Science Museum (PA)
Under the rules of the Nobel Prize, however, no more than three living scientists can be given the award.

"What the Nobel committee did was to award it to the two survivors of the first three, but my opinion before the award was announced was that if they were going to award it to three people then they should include Tom Kibble," Professor Higgs said.

"His role was important and I think it's perhaps a shame that he's been missed out. But I do think that the way these prizes are awarded recognises Brout's contribution posthumously," he said.

Both Higgs and Hawking were in agreement about the next big challenge of the LHC, which is to reveal the nature of the "dark matter" and "dark energy" that pervades the Universe, but which for some reason is largely invisible to scientific instruments.

One theory is that it exists as anti-matter, or supersymmetric particles that match the particles making up the matter that we can detect.

A visitor to the Science Museum walks towards a photograph of the workings of the Large Hadron Collider (Getty) A visitor to the Science Museum walks towards a photograph of the workings of the Large Hadron Collider (Getty)
"I think the discovery of supersymmetric partners for the known particles would revolutionise our understanding of the Universe," Professor Hawking said.

Professor Higgs agreed that the existence of supersymmetry is perhaps one of the biggest remaining questions in fundamental physics, and one that the LHC is in a good position to answer.

"I'd like to know about what I hope the LHC will soon find the answer to, which is whether there are supersymmetric particles beyond the standard model and whether these do indeed provide the candidate for the dark matter," Professor Higgs said.

Rolf Heuer, the director of Cern, said that the moment has now come for science to explore the dark energy and dark matter that have remained so elusive to particle physicists and astronomers.

"It has taken us 50 years to complete the standard model of the Universe, but 95 per cent of it is still unknown. It's high time that we enter the dark universe," Dr Heuer said.

And for anyone tempted to believe that the Collider in South Kensington is anything other than a wonderful museum exhibition, he added: "The exhibition is very nice, but the real thing is still in Geneva."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk