Yesterday, Tuesday 8 October 2013. English Professor Peter Higgs and his Belgian colleague François Englert were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work that proposed the mechanism that explains how the most basic building blocks of the universe have mass. The Higgs Boson theory.
Professor Higgs published his theory in a paper in 1964 alongside Professor Englert and another theoretical physicist Robert Brout. However, it wasn’t until 48 years later in July 2012, and again earlier this year that the scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern confirmed they believed they had found a new subatomic particle that matched the properties of the Boson proposed by Higgs, Englert and Brout. A new particle that is now generally referred to as the Higgs Boson.
The greatest prize in science was awarded to the modest retired professor from Edinburgh and the Belgian scientist François Englert. The official citation read:
“For the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles and which was recently confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle by the Atlas and CMS experiments at Cern’s Large Hadron Collider”
Notoriously shy Higgs, who is an emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh has always preferred to emphasise the role that fellow scientists have played in the proposal and discovery of the Higgs Boson. The University of Edinburgh released this statement on behalf of Professor Higgs shortly after the announcement:
“I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy.
“I would also like to congratulate all those who have contributed to the discovery of this new particle and to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support.
“I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.”
Proving Higgs’ and Englert’s theory correct took nearly 50 years and involved creating the biggest and most sophisticated machine ever built, the Large Hadron Collider.
The LHC at Cern consists of a 17 mile circular round tunnel. It is so big that it is partly in Switzerland, partly in France and took thousands of scientists and engineers ten years to build.
The LHC uses some of the strongest electromagnets on Earth to accelerate atomic particles in opposite directions around the 17 mile loop to almost the speed of light. When the particles reach their maximum speed they are deflected causing them to collide.
This is what happens next, as explained on the LHC website:
Thousands of new particles are produced when particles collide and detectors, placed around the collision points, allow scientists to identify these new particles by tracking their behaviour.
The detectors are able to follow the millions of collisions and new particles produced every second and identify the distinctive behaviour of interesting new particles from among the many thousands that are of little interest.
As the energy produced in the collisions increases researchers are able to peer deeper into the fundamental structure of the Universe and further back in its history. In these extreme conditions unknown atomic particles may appear… Such as the Higgs Boson.
Congratulations to Professor Peter Higgs and Professor François Englert!
Find out more about CERN and the Higgs Boson.