A tribute to Professor Peter Higgs


Peter Higgs, physicist who proposed Higgs boson, dies aged 94. Nobel-prize winning physicist who showed how particle helped bind universe together died at home in Edinburgh. Peter Higgs, the Nobel prize-winning physicist who proposed a new particle known as the Higgs boson, has died.

Higgs, 94, who was awarded the Nobel prize for physics in 2013 for his work in 1964 showing how the boson helped bind the universe together by giving particles their mass, died at home in Edinburgh on Monday 8th April 2024

After a series of experiments, which began in earnest in 2008, his theory was proven by physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Switzerland in 2012; the Nobel prize was shared with François Englert, a Belgian theoretical physicist whose work in 1964 also contributed directly to the discovery.

A member of the Royal Society and a Companion of Honour, Higgs spent the bulk of his professional life at Edinburgh University, which set up the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics in his honour in 2012.

Prof Peter Mathieson, the university’s principal, said: “Peter Higgs was a remarkable individual – a truly gifted scientist whose vision and imagination have enriched our knowledge of the world that surrounds us.

“His pioneering work has motivated thousands of scientists, and his legacy will continue to inspire many more for generations to come.”

Prof Fabiola Gianotti, the director general at Cern and former leader of the Atlas experiment, which helped discover the Higgs particle in 2012, said: “Besides his outstanding contributions to particle physics, Peter was a very special person, a man of rare modesty, a great teacher and someone who explained physics in a very simple and profound way.

“An important piece of Cern’s history and accomplishments is linked to him. I am very saddened, and I will miss him sorely.”

The evening before the discovery of the particle was announced, Peter was invited to a small celebration at the home of John Ellis, the former head of theory at Cern. “A giant of particle physics has left us,” Ellis told the Guardian. “Without his theory, atoms could not exist and radioactivity would be a force as strong as electricity and magnetism.

“His prediction of the existence of the particle that bears his name was a deep insight, and its discovery at Cern in 2012 was a crowning moment that confirmed his understanding of the way the Universe works.”

Jon Butterworth, a member of the Atlas collaboration, said Higgs was “a hero to the particle physics community”.

“Even though he didn’t much enjoy it, he felt a responsibility to use the public profile his achievements brought him for the good of science, and he did so many times. The particle that carries his name is perhaps the single most stunning example of how seemingly abstract mathematical ideas can make predictions which turn out to have huge physical consequences.”

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the Nobel, said at the time the standard model of physics which underpins the scientific understanding of the universe “rests on the existence of a special kind of particle: the Higgs particle. This 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. The theory proposed by Englert and Higgs describes this process.”

An immensely shy man who disliked the fuss, Higgs had left home for a quiet lunch of soup and trout in Leith on the day of the announcement, to be stopped by a former neighbour who gave him the news on his way home.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, Higgs leaves two sons, Chris and Jonny, his daughter-in-law Suzanne and two grandchildren. His wife, Jody, a linguistics lecturer from whom he was separated, died in 2008.

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