Nobel Prize In Physics Awarded For Higgs Boson Discovery (Updated)

Tue, 2013-10-08 11:31 -- cgorski
Oct 8 2013 - 11:15am

Update: 3:15 pm EDT

Update: 1 p.m. EDT

By: Chris Gorski, Senior Editor, Inside Science
Francois Englert and Peter Higgs meet on July 4th, 2012, after experiments with CERN's Large Hadron Collider confirmed their theoretical work from the 1960s. Image credit and copyright: CERN
 
 
An hour after the originally scheduled time, at around 6:45 a.m. EDT, the announcement came from Staffan Normark, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Two of the scientists who developed the theory of what is now known as the Higgs mechanism, an invisible field in the universe that explains why some subatomic particles have mass, have won this year's Nobel Prize for physics, François Englert, from Belgium, and Peter W. Higgs, from the United Kingdom. 
 
This is the 31st time the physics prize has been shared by two scientists.
 
The Nobel Prize amount for 2013 is set at Swedish kronor 8.0 million per full Nobel Prize. That means Englert and Higgs will share about 1.24 million U.S. dollars.
 
 
The citation of the award is as follows "The Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 was 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.'" 
 
So what is a Higgs boson? This comic from Jorge Cham helps to explain.
 
Here is the Inside Science story from last July, when the ATLAS and CMS groups announced their findings and essentially confirmed the work of Higgs, Englert and others.
 
Higgs is 84 years old, and Englert, 80. The average awardee in physics before this new prize was 55. The two new winners are the eighth and ninth winners in their 80s. Both wrote papers in 1964 (Higgs' paper, and Englert's, who wrote his with the late Robert Brout) that established the theoretical foundations for what became known as the Higgs boson.
 
 

Update: 1 p.m. EDT

 
The citation for the award, which mentions the two research groups and CERN, represents the thousands of people who worked to confirm the existence of the Higgs particle. None of the previous 106 citations for the Nobel Prize in physics, first awarded in 1901, mention any collaborators or institutions in this fashion.
 
The paper Higgs wrote in 1964 (referenced above) was actually initially rejected by a different journal, by an editor at CERN, according to this profile in The Guardian, and this great list of 10 little-known items about the Higgs Boson from Symmetry Magazine.
 
Higgs' award is the 23rd Nobel Prize in physics for the United Kingdom. Here he is discussing the announcements that came on July 4, 2012, when  researchers announced they had detected a particle strongly resembling, and later confirmed, to be the Higgs boson.
 
 
Englert's award is the 11th prize for a Belgian and the first for a Belgian physicist. He also discussed the announcements on July 4, 2012.
 
 

UPDATE: 3:15 p.m. EDT
 
Higgs has managed to remain out of contact to the media thus far…. In fact he told reporters he planned to do so. 
 
On Monday, a day before Higgs was to be awarded the prize, Dennis Overbye of the New York Times called him "the J. D. Salinger of physics" because he shies away from the spotlight, and added this tidbit, that he "has already let it be known that he will not be available in any form on Tuesday."
 
Here's a tweet from Ian Sample of The Guardian, also mentioning Higgs' plans for today: 
 
However, the University of Edinburgh, where Higgs holds the title of professor emeritus of theoretical physics, posted a statement from Higgs on their website expressing gratitude for the award:
 
"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."
 
 
Englert's cowriter on the 1964 paper, Robert Brout, died in 2011. Englert wrote a touching obituary about his colleague for Physics Today. Here is a nice passage from that piece:
 
"Robert always conspicuously disregarded academic knowledge and favored entering any subject from scratch. For him, the fact that he was no expert on particle physics was an advantage: He could easily free himself from fashionable trends in the quest for a consistent theory of short-range fundamental forces."
 
 
And finally, here is some additional information supplied by Ben P. Stein, director of Inside Science, and the writer of our news story on today's physics prize: 
 

Drew Baden, the University of Maryland particle physicist who commented on today's prize for the Inside Science News Service story, said a number of interesting things. We didn't have room in the news story, so here are some of his additional thoughts.

When we hear the term "vacuum" in everyday life, he said, we may first think of vacuum cleaners, or vacuum-sealed packaging. But in science, vacuum refers to a region of space in which matter is absent. But that doesn't mean the vacuum is pure nothingness.  

"The vacuum is a very lively place," he said.  "What the Higgs is really telling us about is the vacuum." Instead of being empty, the vacuum contains a Higgs field that interacts with particles to give them mass. “To me, it's not [about] the origin of mass, but it puts the interaction that has to do with mass on another [higher] level.” The vacuum also contains other important things, such as the recently discovered dark energy believed to be largely responsible for causing the universe to accelerate its expansion.              

 
 
 
Thanks to everyone who followed Inside Science's coverage of the Nobel Prize in physics today. Please come back tomorrow for coverage of the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
 
 

 



Here is our news story about the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics.

All of our 2013 Nobel Prize coverage can be found at this page.


 

 
 
 
Science category: 
News section: