2013 Nobel Prize in Physics

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Peter Higgs and François Englert for predicting the existence of a fundamental particle, the Higgs boson, and for contributing to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles.

François Englert and Peter Higgs, recipients of the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics, met for the first time at CERN when the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced to the world 4 July 2012. (Credit: (c) CERN)

There were six theoreticians that predicted a boson commonly termed the “Higgs boson”, which is also known as the Brout-Englert-Higgs boson. The Higgs boson was initially predicted in June 1964 by François Englert and Robert Brout from Université Libre de Bruxelles, and then independently a month later by Peter Higgs, from the University of Edinburgh.  Later in October 1964, Carl Hagen and Gerald Guralnik from USA and Tom Kibble from Britain collaborated and also published a paper proposing that there was a ‘missing’ particle.

The Standard Model of particle physics has been the fundamental basis for all theories that explains how matter in the Universe is distributed, and how elementary particles work.  The Higgs Boson was predicted to be part of the Standard Model and it is associated with a ‘field’ that permeates all space – the Higgs mechanism or Higgs field. The theory proposed that the Higgs field exists throughout all of space and that particles gained mass by interacting with this field.

It was theorised that the Higgs mechanism gives mass to the elementary particles such as W and Z bosons, electrons and quarks. Up until the work of Higgs, Englert and Brout it was not clear how fundamental particles like electrons and quarks obtained their mass.

Higgs boson decays to four muons. (Credit: (c) CERN)

Over several years experiments were performed at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) trying to detect the Higgs boson. Two research teams consisting of over 5,600 scientists from the ATLAS detector at the LHC, and the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector in France were involved in a major collaboration that took nine months to complete. The ATLAS detector produced a proton-proton collision, and data from one trillion (1012) of proton collisions was required to detect the ‘missing’ boson.

In July 2012, the Higgs Boson was finally confirmed, and the combined results from ATLAS and CMS proved conclusively that the mass of the Higgs boson is 126.0 ± 0.4 (stat) ±0.4 (sys) GeV. The findings also indicate that the electrical charge of the boson is zero, concluding that the Higgs boson is also a neutral boson, and by definition of a boson has zero spin. It has a mean lifetime of 1.6 x 10-22 seconds (as predicted by the Standard Model).

Nearly 50 years has passed since the first predictions of the Higgs boson and the Higgs mechanism, and now in 2013, the final piece of the puzzle of the Standard Model is complete, and we can clearly explain howparticles attain mass. After the LHC’s restart in 2015 in which higher energies will be explored, there is a possibility that more Higgs particles will be found.

This major discovery will in the future assist in determining the nature of Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

For more information, see

[Sheridan Lacey & Glen Mackie]

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