World-renowned physicist Professor Peter Higgs was in the region last night.
In one of his first visits to the North since he and Belgian scientist Professor Francois Englert were awarded the Nobel Prize, the Newcastle-born scientist was at Durham University to deliver the annual Collingwood Lecture.
The 84-year-old’s theories led to one of the most important discoveries in science of all time - the Higgs Boson.
Commonly referred to as ‘the God particle’, the Boson is a tiny particle which is thought to generate mass for other particles and is now regarded as the missing link in understanding how the universe works.
He and Prof Englert predicted its existence more than 50 years ago and were last month jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.
The eminent professor spoke to a packed lecture theatre in the Calman Learning Centre and was mobbed by fans after the hour-long event, with people keen to congratulate him and have their picture taken with him.
Prof Higgs said this is something which now happens everywhere after his theory was all but proved at the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva in July.
He said: “I have become used to it although I haven’t when it comes to having to pose for masses and masses of photographs. It acts as a deterrent to me as I don’t like to venture out to my old physics department [at University College London] anymore because it starts up again.”
The professor was also presented with a miniature tapestry of the Lindisfarne Gospels, which until September 30 were on display at the university.
Prof Higgs, whose name is now famous across the globe, said he enjoyed spending time with young students and that he hoped he could help direct public funding into the sciences.
He said: “The situation seems to be, there is a wave of public interest which is helping to support the funding of science in a rather good way and it is important to encourage that.”
In June, Professor Higgs was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science degree by Durham University in recognition of his landmark research.
Professor Higgs said: “Durham is an important international centre for particle physics research and is somewhere that I have worked closely with throughout my career. In fact the mathematics department at Durham was one of the first places I visited to explain my theory of spontaneous symmetry breaking, the concept which is at the heart of contemporary particle physics. I am delighted to be delivering The Annual Collingwood Lecture on the very same subject.”
Durham’s strength and international renown in particle physics has a long history. Five members of the CPT have been elected as Fellows of the Royal Society: two from Physics, two from Mathematical Sciences and one joint appointment.
Professor Anne Taormina, in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, at Durham University, said: “Research in both Departments addresses fundamental questions about our Universe like the role of string theory in quantising gravity.”