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Science Media Centre: Higgs Boson theory earns Nobel for Physics

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The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to the theorists who predicted the Higgs Boson particle 50 years before it was actually confirmed to exist.

HiggsNobelThe Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 was today awarded jointly to François Englert and Peter W. Higgs “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider”

According to the Nobel press release:

“The awarded theory is a central part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed. According to the Standard Model, everything, from flowers and people to stars and planets, consists of just a few building blocks: matter particles. These particles are governed by forces mediated by force particles that make sure everything works as it should.

“The entire Standard Model also 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.”

A simple explanation of the Higgs Boson, its discovery and impact, has been provided by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

A background fact sheet and expert commentary on the discovery of the particle are available on the Science Media Centre website.

Our colleagues at the UK SMC collected the following expert commentary. Feel free to use these quotes in your reporting. If you would like to contact a New Zealand expert, please contact the SMC (04 499 5476; smc@sciencemediacentre.co.nz).

Professor Valentin Khoze, Director of Durham’s Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology (IPPP), said:

“The search for the elusive Higgs boson predicted by the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism was on-going for almost 50 years until scientists at the Large Hadron Collider experiment at CERN announced a spectacular discovery of a particle consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson, thus confirming their groundbreaking theoretical work.

“The Higgs particle generates masses for other elementary particles and without it the Universe would not remotely look like anything we see today.

“The Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism and the Higgs boson play an absolutely vital role in our very understanding of fundamental physics.

“This brings us closer to uncovering new physics phenomena, explaining dark matter and other mysteries of the Universe.”

Professor Stefan Soldner-Rembold, University of Manchester, comments:
“Rarely has the award of a Nobel Prize been so universally expected. The journey from   Peter Higgs’ original prediction 50 years ago to the discovery of the Higgs particle   last year has been a triumph of theoretical and experimental physics.    The discovery of the Higgs boson answers one of the most fundamental questions    about the properties of matter in the Universe.    Physicists from the UK have played a leading role    in building the large experiments that have made this triumph of Higgs’ theory possible.

Professor Jerome Gauntlett, Head of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London, comments:

“It is wonderful that the Nobel Committee has recognised the outstanding contributions of Peter Higgs and Francois Englert to our understanding of fundamental physics.

“Their visionary ideas about how elementary particles acquire mass, from nearly 50 years ago, were dramatically confirmed earlier this year with the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider. This will surely be remembered as one of the great chapters of scientific discovery.

“Imperial is also proud of its involvement, including profound contributions by Tom Kibble, Abdus Salam and the experimental team at the LHC.

“Like all great discoveries, more detailed studies of the Higgs boson are likely to have a huge impact on the future of fundamental scientific enquiry. We may find evidence for a new “supersymmetry” which would mean that there are even more elementary particles waiting to be discovered. We might solve the riddle of the mysterious Dark Matter that pervades the universe. We might learn whether or not there are extra dimensions in the universe, in addition to the three space dimensions that we observe.

“These threads will also provide key clues to the ultimate question in fundamental physics which is: how can we unify the Standard Model of Particle Physics with Einstein’s theory of Gravity?”

Tejinder (Jim) Virdee FRS, Professor of Physics at Imperial College London and Former spokesperson for CMS experiment at CERN:

“It’s wonderful news that the Physics Nobel Committee has recognized two physicists, including one from the UK, whose theoretical work launched a momentous scientific endeavour that started some 50 years ago. The 2012 discovery of a Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider has been a major breakthrough for Science and opens an exciting era for particle physics.

“In 1964, in a great intellectual leap, the theoretical physicists postulated the existence of a field that pervades the entire universe, to give mass to fundamental particles, the quantum of which is known as the Higgs boson. Then nearly 30 years later, the epic journey began to hunt for the elusive Higgs boson at the LHC, one that would eventually involve experimentalists from around the world, in conceiving the experiments and the accelerator, inventing new technologies for them and then building and operating these complex instruments.

“It is a great honour and privilege to be connected with this advance in science. The LHC has just started the extraction of science and is expected to continue for two more decades. We all are looking forward to uncovering further secrets of Nature.”

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