Peter Higgs: There could be no more gracious or deserving winner of a Nobel Prize

The lectures he gave at university were as inspiring as what has happened today

Share
Related Topics

It was some time during my Mathematical Physics degree at the University of Edinburgh that I first encountered Peter Higgs. Wandering through the musty corridors, one of my fellow-students elbowed me and whispered: “That’s Professor Higgs; he invented a particle!” A few years later I was sitting in Higgs’s lectures. The lecturers were challenging, but then again he was teaching some of the most advanced material we learned as undergraduates: Einstein’s theory of general relativity and symmetries.

The lectures were also inspiring, as has what has happened today: the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Physics jointly to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert of the Free University of Belgium, for their part in developing the Higgs mechanism - the theoretical underpinning which allows the fundamental particles - the particles that make up you and me - to have a mass.

These days I am back at the University of Edinburgh as a Higgs boson researcher, working with the Atlas experiment at Cern. Last year, on the 4 July 2012, the Atlas and CMS experiments announced the discovery of a new particle, a particle that looked very much like the Higgs boson.  By March this year, and with more data analysed it was clear that the new particle was one predicted by Englert, Higgs, and Englert’s late colleague Robert Brout. Which is good.  Because without the Higgs mechanism and the Higgs boson predicted by the theory, there would be no way to explain why fundamental particles have a mass, and without that there’s no way to explain why these particles stick together to form atoms, molecules and hence all the structure of the universe.

These days Peter Higgs is enjoying his retirement.  Excited students and colleagues tell me how they have spotted him on the bus, in the supermarket, having coffee and cake in a local cafe and attending events at the Edinburgh Festival. He also does a public speaking, inspiring the next generation of scientists. He is, to a fault, a modest man. Last year at the Cern seminar announcing the Higgs boson discovery, he said he felt overwhelmed. Not for his effort; but for the efforts of the huge number of experimentalists running the Cern experiments.

Personally, I think today’s choice of recipients was the correct one. It’s harder to think of a more gracious or more deserving recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics than Peter Higgs.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Traffic Planner

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As the successful candidate you...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Queen at Derby day during the Epsom Derby Festival, 2013  

As an MP, I shouldn't have to swear allegiance to the Queen – I serve my constituents, not her

Richard Burgon
Fifa president Sepp Blatter  

Fifa presidential election: If I had a vote, I would back Sepp Blatter

Sean O'Grady
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor