Prize particle: Work on the Higgs boson draws a Nobel

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In the mid-1960s, six theorists batted around an audacious idea about the infrastructure of the cosmos. Peter Higgs of the United Kingdom and Francois Englert of Belgium took the lead among their fellow physicists in producing what would eventually become a cornerstone of the Standard Model of particle physics.

In 1964, Mr. Higgs and Mr. Englert speculated about the existence of a ghostly subatomic particle that would become known as Higgs boson and later be nicknamed the "God particle." According to their theory, countless Higgs boson particles are associated with an invisible field that is part of basic infrastructure of the universe. It was a theory that won the men the Nobel Prize for physics announced on Tuesday.

At the time they proposed it, the theory was unprovable because of the limits of technology. Fast forward to a series of experiments outside Geneva, Switzerland, last year.

Hundreds of scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research Large Hadron Collider worked tirelessly to isolate the elusive particle using technology that didn't exist half a century ago. The efforts of 10,000 people, $10 billion and two decades devoted to building the 17-mile supercollider paid off with the announcement that the theory had been confirmed.

A Nobel Prize was inevitable, but who should get it? The Nobel committee does not give a prize to more than three people or to anyone who has died. Fittingly, the award went to Mr. Higgs and Mr. Englert, whose work preceded the discovery.

One can be happy for the newly minted laureates while also acknowledging the toil and effort of those who contributed to the work on the Higgs boson. This discovery of a lifetime has transformed our understanding of the structure of the universe.


First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM

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