Newcastle-born scientist Professor Peter Higgs awarded Nobel Prize

Newcastle-born physicist Peter Higgs has won the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on what has become known as the “God particle”

Professor Peter Higgs
Professor Peter Higgs

Newcastle-born physicist Peter Higgs has won the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on what has become known as the “God particle”.

His theory - developed with Francois Englert, of Belgium, who was jointly awarded the prize - was confirmed last year by the discovery of the so-called Higgs boson at a laboratory in Geneva.

“I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy,” Prof Higgs said.

“I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.” Prof Higgs and Prof Englert theorised about the existence of the particle in the 1960s to provide an answer to a riddle: why matter has mass.

The tiny particle, they believed, acts like molasses on snow - causing other basic building blocks of nature to stick together, slow down and form atoms.

Prof Higgs, who was born in Elswick, Newcastle, and lived in the city as a child, hit upon the concept of a “God particle” during a walk in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland in 1964 when he started to consider the existence of a particle that gives matter its mass.

He wrote two scientific papers on his theory and was eventually published in the Physical Review Letters journal, sparking a 40-year hunt for the Higgs boson.

But decades would pass before scientists at CERN, the Geneva-based European Organisation for Nuclear Research, were able to confirm its existence.

The European particle physics laboratory announced the news in July of last year.

Finding the particle - often referred to as the “God particle” - required teams of thousands of scientists and mountains of data from trillions of colliding protons in the world’s biggest atom smasher - CERN’s Large Hadron Collider – which produces energies simulating those one trillionth to two trillionths of a second after the Big Bang. The collider cost 10bn dollars (£6.2bn) to build and runs in a 17-mile tunnel beneath the Swiss-French border.

Only about one collision per trillion will produce one of the Higgs bosons in the collider, and it took CERN some time after the discovery of a new “Higgs-like” boson to decide that the particle was, in fact, very much like the Higgs boson expected in the original formulation, rather than a kind of variant.

Prof Higgs returned to the region earlier this year to get an honorary degree from Durham University.

Yesterday Professor Valentin Khoze, Director of Durham’s Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology, said: “The 2013 Nobel Prize in physics recognises a truly fundamental conceptual achievement in particle physics.”

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