Peter Higgs Q&A: 'God particle' man wins Nobel Prize in physics
British physicist predicted Higgs boson 50 years before it was observed in Large Hadron Collider
THE Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert. The two theoretical physicists, who predicted the existence of the subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson in 1964, will share the $1.25m prize. Here are seven key questions about Higgs and the "God particle" he imagined 50 years before it was observed for the first time in the Large Hadron Collider.
An Englishman and a Belgian walk into a laboratory...
Higgs was born in Newcastle and Englert is Belgian. In 1964 they published a groundbreaking paper – co-authored with another theoretical physicist called Robert Brout – on the mechanism that gives subatomic particles mass.
So, why is it called the Higgs boson not the Englert boson?
By the early 1970s, it was Higgs who was being "associated most in academic papers and conferences with the theory", says The BBC. "This led to the particle acquiring his name – informally at first, but it soon stuck". Boson refers to a type of elementary particle used in physics.
Did Higgs have a 'eureka moment'?
Sadly, no. Higgs says his head was "already full of ideas" about the particle when he went on a camping trip in the Scottish mountains in the summer of 1964. The trip was cut short by heavy rain. Higgs returned to Edinburgh University and wrote the article that would make him famous. "I wasn't walking around shouting 'eureka'," he told Der Spiegel.
What is Higgs like?
Notoriously shy, according to most people who know him. He may be a "rock star of particle physics," but he seems allergic to the spotlight. The Nobel Committee said it struggled to contact the 84-year-old to tell him he'd won the prize. Friends told the Daily Telegraph he has "gone away" to avoid the publicity surrounding today's announcement.
Why is the boson called the God particle?
The particle holds an elevated position in physics because it's said to be "what caused the Big Bang that created our universe", reports CBS News. The nickname – coined in a 1993 book – caught on quickly because the particle "is what joins everything and gives it matter". Higgs, in common with many physicists, dislikes the nickname.
It took many years (and billions of pounds) to prove Higgs and Englert right
In 2008, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) began building the world's largest particle accelerator near Geneva. The $10bn Large Hadron Collider is designed to "reproduce the incredibly high energies found in the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, which brought our universe into existence". On 4 July, Cern scientists confirmed that a particle found in the Collider during experiments conducted in 2012, was the elusive Higgs boson. "It's very nice to be right sometimes," Higgs said when he was informed of Cern's announcement.
So, why is the Higgs boson so important?
The boson explains why other elementary particles – the basic building blocks of the universe – have mass. Its discovery "fills a gap in our understanding of the laws of nature that govern all matter, and throws light on what was going on in the early universe," explains physics professor Steven Weinberg in the New York Times. Weinberg's rather more technical explanation of the particle's importance is here. ·