‘God particle’ theorists share physics Nobel
STOCKHOLM – Peter Higgs and François Englert will share the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics for their independent theoretical discoveries nearly 50 years ago of the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle” that gives all other particles their mass.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences bestowed the award in October on British physicist Higgs, professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, and Belgian physicist Englert of the Free University of Brussels, who published papers independently in 1964 on a mechanism that contributes to the understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles. Higgs won the prize for the theory he developed that fundamental particles have mass due to their interaction with a Higgs field. Englert’s partner on his paper, Robert Brout, is deceased; the Nobel Prize is awarded only to living candidates.
The Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism explains how the force responsible for beta decay is much weaker than electromagnetism, but is better known as the mechanism that endows fundamental particles with mass. The theory is a central part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed. The Higgs particle originates from an invisible field that fills up all space. Even when the universe seems empty, this field is there. Without it, we would not exist, because it is from contact with the field that particles acquire mass.
François Englert (left) and Peter Higgs at CERN on July 4, 2012, during the announcement of the discovery of a Higgs boson by the ATLAS and CMS experiments. The two physicists met for the first time at the meeting and now share the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics. Courtesy of Maximilien Brice/CERN.
For developing this theory, Higgs and Englert will split SEK 8 million.
A third paper, published by Americans Gerald Guralnik and Carl Hagen with their British colleague Tom Kibble, further contributed to the development of the idea.
“I’m thrilled that this year’s Nobel prize has gone to particle physics,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “The discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN last year, which validates the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism, marks the culmination of decades of intellectual effort by many people around the world.”
The discovery of the long-sought-after fundamental particle was confirmed in July 2012 by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva. The ATLAS and CMS collaborations each involve more than 3000 people from around the world who managed to extract the Higgs particle from billions of particle collisions in the LHC.
“It took several decades and the construction of the world’s largest science experiment to prove them right – and that investment didn’t just teach us something new about the universe, it transformed our everyday lives,” said particle physicist John Womersley, chief executive of the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council.
“Particle physics has brought us the World Wide Web, touch screens, superconducting magnets and medical imaging detectors,” he said.
In March 2013, having analyzed two-and-a-half-times more data than was available when the discovery was made public in July 2012, CERN announced that the new particle “is looking more and more like a Higgs boson,” but added that “it remains an open question, however, whether this is the Higgs boson of the Standard Model of particle physics or possibly the lightest of several bosons predicted in some theories that go beyond the Standard Model. Finding the answer to this question will take time.”
The Higgs discovery won’t be the final piece to the Standard Model puzzle, because it treats certain particles – neutrinos – as having virtually no mass, when recent studies have shown that they actually do have mass. The Standard Model describes only visible matter, which accounts for only one-fifth of all matter in the universe. Finding the mysterious “dark matter” that makes up the rest is one of the objectives that remain as scientists continue the chase of unknown particles at CERN.
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