God particle scientist Professor Peter Higgs, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics last year, has admitted that he finds his new-found fame “a bit of a nuisance”.
The Newcastle-born scientist talks frankly in a radio interview tomorrow about the work pressures that helped break-up his marriage.
Speaking in the first episode of The Life Scientific on BBC Radio 4, the unassuming 84-year-old reveals how he struggled alone with his theories in the 1960s.
“Nobody else took what I was doing seriously, so nobody would want to work with me,” he tells presenter Jim Al-Khalili. “I was thought to be a bit eccentric and maybe cranky.”
Prof Higgs was thrust into the limelight after the elusive fundamental particle that bears his name was found by scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the huge atom-smashing machine built to probe the origins of the universe.
However, the transition to celebrityhood was not a comfortable one for him.
Asked how he feels about being stopped in the street and asked for his autograph, he says: “It’s a bit of a nuisance sometimes, frankly.”
The Higgs boson, nicknamed the “God Particle”, provides mass to the most basic building blocks of matter.
Without it, the Standard Model theory that combines all the fundamental forces and particles of the universe would have fallen down.
Prof Higgs was born in Elswick, Newcastle, but settled in Edinburgh after falling in love with the city when he went to university there.
Prof Higgs predicted the existence of the particle while working at Edinburgh University in 1964.
But until the momentous discovery at the LHC near Geneva in 2012 the “God particle” had proved impossible to track down.
In the Radio 4 interview, to be broadcast tomorrow at 9am, Prof Higgs says he initially failed to appreciate the significance of his theory.
“It seemed to me that this was an important result which I had got, but of course it wasn’t clear at the time how it would be applied in particle physics, and those of us who did the work in ‘64 were looking in the wrong place for the application,” he confesses.
Eventually it was left to others, led by Steven Weinberg, to build on Prof Higgs’ work and put together the Standard Model.
Prof Higgs shot from obscurity to fame after the Higgs boson discovery and last year shared the Nobel Prize with Belgian Francois Englert.
Prof Higgs added that he believes a third scientist should have shared the Nobel Prize, theoretical physicist Professor Tom Kibble, from Imperial College London, who also worked on the Higgs boson.