Peter Higgs

Peter Ware Higgs CH FRS FRSE FInstP (born 29 May 1929) is a British theoretical physicist, emeritus professor in the University of Edinburgh,[5][6] and Nobel Prize laureate for his work on the mass of subatomic particles.[7]

Peter Higgs

Nobel laureate Peter Higgs at a press conference, Stockholm, December 2013
Peter Ware Higgs

(1929-05-29) 29 May 1929
Newcastle upon Tyne, England, UK
ResidenceEdinburgh, Scotland, UK
Alma materKing's College London (BSc, MSc, PhD)
Known forHiggs boson
Higgs field
Higgs mechanism
Symmetry breaking
Jody Williamson (m. 1963)
Scientific career
FieldsTheoretical physics
InstitutionsUniversity of Edinburgh
Imperial College London
University College London
King's College London
ThesisSome problems in the theory of molecular vibrations (1955)
Doctoral advisorCharles Coulson[2][3]
Christopher Longuet-Higgins[2][4]
Doctoral students

In the 1960s, Higgs proposed that broken symmetry in electroweak theory could explain the origin of mass of elementary particles in general and of the W and Z bosons in particular. This so-called Higgs mechanism, which was proposed by several physicists besides Higgs at about the same time, predicts the existence of a new particle, the Higgs boson, the detection of which became one of the great goals of physics.[8][9] On 4 July 2012, CERN announced the discovery of the boson at the Large Hadron Collider.[10] The Higgs mechanism is generally accepted as an important ingredient in the Standard Model of particle physics, without which certain particles would have no mass.[11]

Higgs has been honoured with a number of awards in recognition of his work, including the 1981 Hughes Medal from the Royal Society; the 1984 Rutherford Medal from the Institute of Physics; the 1997 Dirac Medal and Prize for outstanding contributions to theoretical physics from the Institute of Physics; the 1997 High Energy and Particle Physics Prize by the European Physical Society; the 2004 Wolf Prize in Physics; the 2009 Oskar Klein Memorial Lecture medal from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; the 2010 American Physical Society J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics; and a unique Higgs Medal from the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2012.[12] The discovery of the Higgs boson prompted fellow physicist Stephen Hawking to note that he thought that Higgs should receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work,[13][14] which he finally did, shared with François Englert in 2013.[15] Higgs was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour in the 2013 New Year Honours[16][17] and in 2015 the Royal Society awarded him the Copley Medal, the world's oldest scientific prize.[18]

Early life and education

Higgs was born in the Elswick district of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, to Thomas Ware Higgs (1898–1962) and his wife Gertrude Maude née Coghill (1895–1969).[12][19][20][21][22] His father worked as a sound engineer for the BBC, and as a result of childhood asthma, together with the family moving around because of his father's job and later World War II, Higgs missed some early schooling and was taught at home. When his father relocated to Bedford, Higgs stayed behind in Bristol with his mother, and was largely raised there. He attended Cotham Grammar School in Bristol from 1941–46,[12][23] where he was inspired by the work of one of the school's alumni, Paul Dirac, a founder of the field of quantum mechanics.[21]

In 1946, at the age of 17, Higgs moved to City of London School, where he specialised in mathematics, then in 1947 to King's College London where he graduated with a first class honours degree in Physics in 1950 and achieved a master's degree in 1952. He was awarded an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851,[24] and performed his doctoral research in molecular physics under the supervision of Charles Coulson and Christopher Longuet-Higgins.[2] He was awarded a PhD degree in 1954 with a thesis entitled Some problems in the theory of molecular vibrations.[2][12][25]

Career and research

After finishing his doctorate, Higgs was appointed a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh (1954–56). He then held various posts at Imperial College London, and University College London (where he also became a temporary lecturer in Mathematics). He returned to the University of Edinburgh in 1960 to take up the post of Lecturer at the Tait Institute of Mathematical Physics, allowing him to settle in the city he had enjoyed while hitchhiking to the Western Highlands as a student in 1949.[26][27] He was promoted to Reader, became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE) in 1974 and was promoted to a Personal Chair of Theoretical Physics in 1980. He retired in 1996 and became Emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh.[5]

Higgs was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1983 and Fellow of the Institute of Physics (FInstP) in 1991. He was awarded the Rutherford Medal and Prize in 1984. He received an honorary degree from the University of Bristol in 1997. In 2008 he received an Honorary Fellowship from Swansea University for his work in particle physics.[28]

At Edinburgh Higgs first became interested in mass, developing the idea that particles – massless when the universe began – acquired mass a fraction of a second later as a result of interacting with a theoretical field (which became known as the Higgs field). Higgs postulated that this field permeates space, giving mass to all elementary subatomic particles that interact with it.[21][29]

The Higgs mechanism postulates the existence of the Higgs field which confers mass on quarks and leptons.[30] However this causes only a tiny portion of the masses of other subatomic particles, such as protons and neutrons. In these, gluons that bind quarks together confer most of the particle mass.

The original basis of Higgs' work came from the Japanese-born theorist and Nobel Prize laureate Yoichiro Nambu from the University of Chicago. Professor Nambu had proposed a theory known as spontaneous symmetry breaking based on what was known to happen in superconductivity in condensed matter; however, the theory predicted massless particles (the Goldstone's theorem), a clearly incorrect prediction.[5]

Higgs is reported to have developed the basic fundamentals of his theory after returning to his Edinburgh New Town apartment from a failed weekend camping trip to the Highlands.[31][32][33] He stated that there was no "eureka moment" in the development of the theory.[34] He wrote a short paper exploiting a loophole in Goldstone's theorem (massless Goldstone particles need not occur when local symmetry is spontaneously broken in a relativistic theory[35]) and published it in Physics Letters, a European physics journal edited at CERN, in Switzerland, in 1964.[36]

Higgs wrote a second paper describing a theoretical model (now called the Higgs mechanism), but the paper was rejected (the editors of Physics Letters judged it "of no obvious relevance to physics").[21] Higgs wrote an extra paragraph and sent his paper to Physical Review Letters, another leading physics journal, which published it later in 1964. This paper predicted a new massive spin-zero boson (now known as the Higgs boson).[35][37] Other physicists, Robert Brout and François Englert[38] and Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen and Tom Kibble[39] had reached similar conclusions about the same time. In the published version Higgs quotes Brout and Englert and the third paper quotes the previous ones. The three papers written on this boson discovery by Higgs, Guralnik, Hagen, Kibble, Brout, and Englert were each recognized as milestone papers by Physical Review Letters 50th anniversary celebration.[40] While each of these famous papers took similar approaches, the contributions and differences between the 1964 PRL symmetry breaking papers are noteworthy. The mechanism had been proposed in 1962 by Philip Anderson although he did not include a crucial relativistic model.[35][41]

On 4 July 2012, CERN announced the ATLAS and Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiments had seen strong indications for the presence of a new particle, which could be the Higgs boson, in the mass region around 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV).[42] Speaking at the seminar in Geneva, Higgs commented "It's really an incredible thing that it's happened in my lifetime."[10] Ironically, this probable confirmation of the Higgs boson was made at the same place where the editor of Physics Letters rejected Higgs' paper.[5]

Awards and honours

Higgs has received numerous accolades including:

Civic awards

Higgs was the recipient of the Edinburgh Award for 2011. He is the fifth person to receive the Award, which was established in 2007 by the City of Edinburgh Council to honour an outstanding individual who has made a positive impact on the city and gained national and international recognition for Edinburgh.[43]

Higgs was presented with an engraved loving cup by the Rt Hon George Grubb, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, in a ceremony held at the City Chambers on Friday 24 February 2012. The event also marked the unveiling of his handprints in the City Chambers quadrangle, where they had been engraved in Caithness stone alongside those of previous Edinburgh Award recipients.[44][45][46]

Higgs was awarded with the Freedom of the City of Bristol in July 2013. In April 2014, he was also awarded the Freedom of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was also honoured with a brass plaque installed on the Newcastle Quayside as part of the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative Local Heroes Walk of Fame.

Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics

On 6 July 2012, Edinburgh University announced a new centre named after Professor Higgs to support future research in theoretical physics. The Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics brings together scientists from around the world to seek "a deeper understanding of how the universe works".[47] The centre is currently based within the James Clerk Maxwell Building, home of the University's School of Physics and Astronomy and the iGEM 2015 team (ClassAfiED). The university has also established a chair of theoretical physics in the name of Peter Higgs.[48][49]

Nobel Prize in Physics

On 8 October 2013, it was announced that Peter Higgs and François Englert would share the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics "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".[50] Higgs admits he had gone out to avoid the media attention[51] so he was informed he had been awarded the prize by an ex-neighbour on his way home, since he did not have a mobile phone.[52][53]

Companion of Honour

Higgs turned down a knighthood in 1999, but in 2012 he accepted membership of The Order of the Companion of Honour.[54][55] He later said that he only accepted the order because he was wrongly assured that the award was the gift of the Queen alone. He also expressed cynicism towards the honours system, and the way the system "is used for political purposes by the government in power". The order confers no title or precedence, but recipients of the order are entitled to use the post-nominal letters CH. In the same interview he also stated that when people ask what the CH after his name stands for, he replies "it means I'm an honorary Swiss."[56] He received the order from the Queen at an investiture at Holyrood House on 1 July 2014.[57]

Honorary Degrees

Higgs has been awarded honorary degrees from the following institutions:

A portrait of Higgs was painted by Ken Currie in 2008.[59] Commissioned by the University of Edinburgh,[60] it was unveiled on 3 April 2009[61] and hangs in the entrance of the James Clerk Maxwell Building of the School of Physics and Astronomy and the School of Mathematics.[59] A large portrait by Lucinda Mackay is in the collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. Another portrait of Higgs by the same artist hangs in the birthplace of James Clerk Maxwell in Edinburgh, Higgs is the Honorary Patron of the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation. A portrait by Victoria Crowe was commissioned by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and unveiled in 2013.[62]

Personal life and political views

Higgs married Jody Williamson, a fellow activist with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1963. Their first son was born in August 1965.[63] Higgs's family includes two sons: Chris, a computer scientist, and Jonny, a jazz musician.[64] He has two grandchildren. The entire family lives in Edinburgh.[45]

Higgs was an activist in the CND while in London and later in Edinburgh, but resigned his membership when the group extended its remit from campaigning against nuclear weapons to campaigning against nuclear power too.[21][65] He was a Greenpeace member until the group opposed genetically modified organisms.[65]

Higgs was awarded the 2004 Wolf Prize in Physics (sharing it with Robert Brout and François Englert), but he refused to fly to Jerusalem to receive the award because it was a state occasion attended by the then president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, and Higgs is opposed to Israel's actions in Palestine.[66]

Higgs was actively involved in the Edinburgh University branch of the Association of University Teachers, through which he agitated for greater staff involvement in the management of the physics department.[56]

Higgs is an atheist.[67] He has described Richard Dawkins as having adopted a "fundamentalist" view of non-atheists.[68] Higgs expressed later that he was displeased that the Higgs particle is nicknamed the "God particle",[69] as he believes the term "might offend people who are religious".[64] Usually this nickname for the Higgs boson is attributed to Leon Lederman, the author of the book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?, but the name is the result of the suggestion of Lederman's publisher: Lederman had originally intended to refer to it as the "goddamn particle".[70]


  1. "Peter Higgs: a truly British scientist". Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  2. Higgs, Peter Ware (1954). Some problems in the theory of molecular vibrations. (PhD thesis). King's College London (University of London). OCLC 731205676. EThOS
  3. Peter Higgs at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  4. "Peter Ware Higgs CH DSc PhD MSc BSc FRS FRSE FInstP". initially under the supervision of Charles Coulson and, subsequently, Christopher Longuet-Higgins
  5. Griggs, Jessica (Summer 2008) The Missing Piece Edit the University of Edinburgh Alumni Magazine, p. 17
  6. Overbye, Dennis (15 September 2014). "A Discoverer as Elusive as His Particle". New York Times. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  7. Overbye, Dennis. A Pioneer as Elusive as His Particle, The New York Times website, 15 September 2014. Also published in print on 16 September 2014, on page D1 of the New York edition.
  8. Griffiths, Martin (1 May 2007) The Tale of the Blog's Boson Retrieved on 27 May 2008
  9. Fermilab Today (16 June 2005) Fermilab Results of the Week. Top Quarks are Higgs' best Friend Retrieved on 27 May 2008
  10. "Higgs boson-like particle discovery claimed at LHC". BBC. 4 July 2012.
  11. Rincon, Paul (10 March 2004) Fermilab 'God Particle' may have been seen Retrieved on 27 May 2008
  12. Staff (29 November 2012) Peter Higgs: Curriculum Vitae The University of Edinburgh, School of Physics and Astronomy, Retrieved 9 January 2012
  13. "Higgs boson breakthrough should earn physicist behind search Nobel Prize: Stephen Hawking". National Press. 4 July 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  14. Stephen Hawking on Higgs: 'Discovery has lost me $100'. BBC. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  15. Amos, Jonathan (8 October 2013) Higgs: Five decades of noble endeavour BBC News Science and Environment; retrieved 8 October 2013
  16. "No. 60367". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 2012. p. 28.
  17. Rincon, Paul (28 December 2012). "Peter Higgs: honour for physicist who proposed particle". BBC News website. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  18. "Prof Peter Higgs wins the Royal Society's Copley Medal". BBC News. 20 July 2015. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  19. GRO Register of Births: Peter W Higgs, JUN 1929 10b 72 NEWCASTLE T., mmn = Coghill
  20. GRO Register of Marriages: Thomas W Higgs = Gertrude M Coghill, SEP 1924 6a 197 BRISTOL
  21. Sample, Ian. "The god of small things", The Guardian, 17 November 2007, weekend section.
  22. Macdonald, Kenneth (10 April 2013) Peter Higgs: Behind the scenes at the Universe. BBC.
  23. The Cotham Grammar School, a High-Performing Specialist Co-operative Academy The Dirac-Higgs Science Centre Archived 23 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 10 January 2013
  24. 1851 Royal Commission Archives
  25. King's College London. "Professor Peter Higgs". Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  26. Mackenzie, Kate (2012) "It Was Worth The Wait" The Interview, The University of Edinburgh Alumni Magazine, Winter 2012/13
  27. Professor Peter Higgs broadcast footage. University of Edinburgh. 2012. Event occurs at 2:00.
  28. "Swansea University Honorary Fellowship". Swansea University. Archived from the original on 12 October 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  29. "Higgs particle", Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007.
  30. Rajasekaran, G. (2012). "Standard model, Higgs Boson and what next?". Resonance. 17 (10): 956–973. doi:10.1007/s12045-012-0110-z.
  31. Martin, Victoria (14 December 2011) Soon we’ll be able to pinpoint that particle The Scotsman, Retrieved 10 January 2013
  32. Collins, Nick (4 July 2012) Higgs boson: Prof Stephen Hawking loses $100 bet The Telegraph. London, Retrieved 10 January 2013
  33. Staff (4 July 2012) Scientists discover 'God' particle The Herald. Glasgow, Retrieved 10 January 2013
  34. "Meeting the Boson Man: Professor Peter Higgs". BBC News. 24 February 2012.
  35. Staff (5 January 2012) Brief History of the Higgs Mechanism The Edinburgh University School of Physics and Astronomy, Retrieved 10 January 2013
  36. Higgs, P. W. (1964). "Broken symmetries, massless particles and gauge fields". Physics Letters. 12 (2): 132–201. Bibcode:1964PhL....12..132H. doi:10.1016/0031-9163(64)91136-9.
  37. Higgs, P. (1964). "Broken Symmetries and the Masses of Gauge Bosons". Physical Review Letters. 13 (16): 508–509. Bibcode:1964PhRvL..13..508H. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.13.508.
  38. Englert, F.; Brout, R. (1964). "Broken Symmetry and the Mass of Gauge Vector Mesons". Physical Review Letters. 13 (9): 321. Bibcode:1964PhRvL..13..321E. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.13.321.
  39. Guralnik, G.; Hagen, C.; Kibble, T. (1964). "Global Conservation Laws and Massless Particles". Physical Review Letters. 13 (20): 585. Bibcode:1964PhRvL..13..585G. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.13.585.
  40. "Physical Review Letters – 50th Anniversary Milestone Papers". Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  41. Anderson, P. (1963). "Plasmons, Gauge Invariance, and Mass". Physical Review. 130 (1): 439–442. Bibcode:1963PhRv..130..439A. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.130.439.
  42. "Higgs within reach". CERN. 4 July 2012. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  43. "The Edinburgh Award". The City of Edinburgh Council. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  44. "Acclaimed physicist presented with Edinburgh Award". The City of Edinburgh Council. 27 February 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  45. "'They'll find the God particle by summer.' And Peter Higgs should know". The Scotsman. 25 February 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  46. "Higgs: Edinburgh Award is a great surprise". BBC. 24 February 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  47. "Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics". The University of Edinburgh.
  48. "Prof Higgs: nice to be right about boson". The Guardian. London. 6 July 2012. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  49. "University to support new physics research". The University of Edinburgh. 6 July 2012. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  50. "Press release from Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences" (PDF). 8 October 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  51. Boucle, Anna (18 February 2014). "The Life Scientific". BBC RADIO4. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  52. "Peter Higgs was told about Nobel Prize by passing motorist".
  53. "Prof Peter Higgs did not know he had won Nobel Prize". BBC News. 11 October 2013 via
  54. "Peter Higgs turned down knighthood from Tony Blair". The Scotsman. 16 October 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  55. Rincon, Paul (29 December 2012). "Peter Higgs: honour for physicist who proposed particle". BBC News. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  56. Aitkenhead, Decca (6 December 2013). "Peter Higgs interview: 'I have this kind of underlying incompetence'". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  57. Press Association (1 July 2014). "Physicist Higgs honoured by Queen". The Courier. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014.
  58. "Peter Higgs: Curriculum Vitae". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  59. "Portrait of Peter Higgs by Ken Currie, 2010". The Tait Institute. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  60. Wade, Mike. "Portrait of a man at beginning of time". The Times. London. Retrieved 28 April 2011.(subscription required)
  61. "Great minds meet at portrait unveiling". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  62. "Prof Peter Higgs: New portrait of boson particle physicist". BBC. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  63. Baggot, Jim (2012). Higgs The invention and discovery of the 'God Particle' (First ed.). Fountaindale Public Library: Oxford University Press. pp. 90–91. ISBN 978-0-19-960349-7.
  64. "Interview: the man behind the 'God particle'", New Scientist 13 Sep 2008, pp. 44–5 (subscription required)
  65. Highfield, Roger (7 April 2008). "Prof Peter Higgs profile". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 15 October 2013. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  66. Rodgers, Peter (1 September 2004). "The heart of the matter". The Independent. London. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  67. Sample, Ian (17 November 2007). "The god of small things". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 March 2013. The name has stuck, but makes Higgs wince and raises the hackles of other theorists. "I wish he hadn't done it," he says. "I have to explain to people it was a joke. I'm an atheist, but I have an uneasy feeling that playing around with names like that could be unnecessarily offensive to people who are religious."
  68. Farndale, Nigel (29 December 2012). "Has Richard Dawkins found a worthy opponent at last?". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  69. Key scientist sure "God particle" will be found soon Reuters news story. 7 April 2008.
  70. Randerson, James (30 June 2008). "Father of the 'God Particle'". The Guardian. London.
Preceded by
Serge Haroche
David J. Wineland
Nobel Prize in Physics laureate
With: François Englert
Succeeded by
Isamu Akasaki
Hiroshi Amano
Shuji Nakamura
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.