Working on the 'God particle' saved my life, says Peter Higgs

 

The Nobel prize-winning physicist Peter Higgs has described the fame he has endured since the discovery of his “God particle” as “a bit of a nuisance” – but admitted that it his was his work that “kept him alive” during the breakdown of his marriage.

The scientist, whose theory on the Higgs boson named after him is widely regarded the most significant development in particle physics for generations, was speaking about how the stress of his research led to the breakdown of his marriage to Jody, an American linguist, in 1972.

“When my wife and I got married, she thought of me being an easygoing person and I warned her I wasn’t,” said the 84-year-old.

“I was easygoing in terms of being adaptable in my social life. But maybe I suffered a personality change in the mid-Sixties and became more dedicated to things involving work because it had become successful in some way.”

Professor Higgs has never been comfortable with the fame his theory brought him but fame would have seemed a far-off prospect in 1964 when he first proposed the theory of an invisible field strewn across space that gave mass to every object in the universe.

The idea was initially met with suspicion and even ridicule in certain circles. His first paper was rejected by a journal, and some peers accused him and some colleagues of failing to grasp the basic principles of physics.

“Nobody else took what I was doing seriously, so nobody would want to work with me,” he told BBC Radio Four. “I was thought to be a bit eccentric and maybe cranky.”

The son of a BBC sound engineer from Newcastle, Higgs graduated with a first-class honours degree in physics from King’s College London in 1950. He was denied a lectureship at the university, however, so became a researcher at Edinburgh University. 

Upon publication of his work on the particle in 1964, he and his colleagues were widely dismissed as young pretenders, with some even suggesting they should abandon their research or risk “ professional suicide”.

It was 48 years later that his radical concept was finally proved correct by a team of physicists using the Large Hadron Collider at the Cern laboratory in Geneva.

After the discovery of the particle Higgs shared the Nobel prize with Belgian François Englert. But Higgs described the experience of suddenly becoming one of the best-known scientists in the world as “a bit of a nuisance”.

The notoriously shy professor retired in 1996 and became emeritus professor of physics at Edinburgh University. But old age has done nothing to avert the interest in his work from young people.

“If I go to something where there are lots of students, they all want use their mobile phones to take pictures of me,” he said.

“The discovery [of the Higgs boson] has led to a disturbance of my lifestyle,” he added in comments to be broadcast on Tuesday on The Life Scientific. “But it’s time to move on in particle physics now.”

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
news

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
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

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week