LiveScience and Reuters both report that Peter Higgs of Britain and Francois Englert of Belgium have been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for physics yesterday. Their prediction of the Higgs boson’s existence helps to explain how the stars and planets formed from elementary matter.
LiveScience managing editor Jeanna Bryner said that early Nobel forecasts were predicting the win for Higgs and Englert, who were among the original team to propose the theory in 1964. The prize was jointly awarded to both scientists. Higgs’ and Englerts’ predictions were fulfilled in the summer of 2012 when CERN’s super-sized underground particle smasher detected the presence of the theorized particle.
Higgs, who is known to avoid the spotlight where possible, said in a statement from the University of Edinburgh, “I am overwhelmed to receive this award. I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.” Englert, meanwhile, told reporters excitedly by phone from Stockholm, “You may imagine that this is not very unpleasant, of course. I am very, very happy to have the recognition of this extraordinary award.”
The official reason for the award cites “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” on the Nobel website.
The Higgs boson has been popularly called the “God particle” because of its place as a fundamental building block in the universe’s construction, although scientists avoid that title and Higgs himself does not favor it.
By studying the debris from particle collisions in the L.H.C., Higgs and Englert proved that the particles inside atoms gain mass by interacting with an invisible field that pervades all space; as they interact further, so they gain more mass. That field’s existence is made possible by the Higgs boson.
Attempting to understand the concept of the Higgs boson particle may seem like a daunting task; thankfully, artist Nigel Holmes with the New York Times created a fascinating series of drawings illustrating the more nuanced aspects of the discovery; they can be viewed here.[Image via Nigel Holmes/The New York Times]