He’s spent less time in Newcastle than the time it has taken to build the office block he was honoured in.
But for Professor Peter Higgs, time spent in Newcastle is all relative.
The professor, after whom the Higgs boson is named due to his theory on the formation of matter, was on Tyneside yesterday to be handed the Freedom of the City.
Born in Elswick in Newcastle in 1929, Prof Higgs spent an admittedly small part of his early life in the city.
He returned every so often as a young academic to take charge of marking papers, but as far as Newcastle Council is now concerned, he is as Geordie as Alan Shearer.
Before accepting the Freedom of the City of Newcastle at a special meeting of the council, Prof Higgs saw Science Central, the long-running publicly-funded project next to St James’ Park which is set to create a new home for science in the city.
Admitting that his connections to the city were “rather slight”, Prof Higgs said it was nonetheless a “great honour”.
Prof Higgs said leaving the city aged one meant he had few strong memories of it, but was still fond of Newcastle.
He said: “I visited the city at the age of six again, and was shown a rather scruffy building which they said was where I was born, probably destroyed many years ago. In the ‘80s I spent a few years as an external examiner for a master’s degree in mathematics, and I used to come down from Edinburgh and walk up from the station to the university to attend those meetings. It has changed tremendously since then.”
Professor Higgs achieved worldwide fame when experiments at the multi-billion-pound CERN testing site in Switzerland showed that his ideas on just how matter forms were correct.
The Nobel Prize winner had his big idea in 1964, but had to wait until atoms were smashed against each other at incredible speeds before the Higgs boson particle was shown to exist.
The fame since then has, he said, surprised him a little. “I was surprised at the extent of public interest. I blame it on the CERN publicity machine. They did a fine job of convincing people their machine was for this purpose, and there has been a bit of back-pedalling since.”
Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes said having Prof Higgs linked to the city would act as an inspiration.
He said: “It’s a fantastic honour to be able to count Prof Higgs as one of our city’s most famous sons. His work has not only revolutionised particle physics, it has the possibility to transform our world.
“I hope that by honouring him we can inspire our city’s young scientists to achieve great things.”