Britain’s latest Nobel laureate, Professor Peter Higgs, was tucking into a hearty pub lunch of soup, sea-trout and draught ale when the Swedish Academy of Sciences was frantically trying to tell him he had won this year’s physics prize, he revealed yesterday.
Instead of learning about his prize directly on Tuesday morning from the Nobel committee in Stockholm, Professor Higgs, 84, who does not have a mobile phone, learned about it in the afternoon on his way home from lunch when he was stopped in the street by a former neighbour who got out of her car to speak to him.
“She congratulated me on the news and I said 'oh, what news?” Professor Higgs said yesterday in his first public comments on his prize.
“She told me her daughter phoned from London to alert her to the fact I had got this prize. I heard more about it obviously when I got home and started reading the messages,” he told a press conference in Edinburgh.
Professor Higgs said he had originally intended to go to the west Highlands to avoid all the fuss. He had been hotly tipped to win the Nobel Prize in physics ever since scientists had confirmed last July the existence of the Higgs boson, a sub-atomic particle that imparts mass to matter.
However, the Highlands trip fell through at the last moment so he decided go for lunch in Leith without telling any of his colleagues at Edinburgh University, where he carried out the original theoretical work on the Higgs boson in 1964.
“I’m obviously delighted and rather relieved in a sense that it’s all over. It’s been a long time coming,” Professor Higgs said in answer to the inevitable question of how does he feel about winning the most coveted prize in science?
He shares the £776,000 prize with Francois Englert of the Free University of Brussels who had also come up with the same theory in 1964 with his colleague Robert Brout, who had died in 2011 – the Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously.
Professor Higgs said that he was told he had been nominated for the physics Nobel as long ago as 1980, but it was only since last year that he felt it was more or less inevitable given that the Higgs boson had been confirmed by experiments on the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) in Geneva.
“I think I face the immediate future with some foreboding because having experienced the wave of attention which followed the announcement at Cern in July 2012,” he said.
“I anticipated that this last announcement will trigger an order of magnitude of more attention. I think I am going to have difficulty in the next few months having any of my life to myself.''