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2013 Nobel prize in Physics

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Francois Englert (left) and Peter Higgs (right) in CERN on July 4, 2012 at the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs particle

A press release from the Nobel Foundation confirmed everyone’s guess:

François Englert and Peter W. Higgs are jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 for the theory of how particles acquire mass. In 1964, they proposed the theory independently of each other (Englert together with his now deceased colleague Robert Brout). In 2012, their ideas were confirmed by the discovery of a so called Higgs particle at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva in Switzerland..

The awarded theory is a central part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed. According to the Standard Model, everything, from flowers and people to stars and planets, consists of just a few building blocks: matter particles. These particles are governed by forces mediated by force particles that make sure everything works as it should.

The entire Standard Model also rests on the existence of a special kind of particle: the Higgs particle. This particle originates from an invisible field that fills up all space. Even when the universe seems empty this field is there. Without it, we would not exist, because it is from contact with the field that particles acquire mass. The theory proposed by Englert and Higgs describes this process.

On 4 July 2012, at the CERN laboratory for particle physics, the theory was confirmed by the discovery of a Higgs particle. CERN’s particle collider, LHC (Large Hadron Collider), is probably the largest and the most complex machine ever constructed by humans. Two research groups of some 3,000 scientists each, ATLAS and CMS, managed to extract the Higgs particle from billions of particle collisions in the LHC.

François Englert, Belgian citizen. Born 1932 in Etterbeek, Belgium. Ph.D. 1959 from Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium. Professor Emeritus at Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium.

Peter W. Higgs, UK citizen. Born 1929 in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Ph.D. 1954 from King’s College, University of London, UK. Professor emeritus at University of Edinburgh, UK.

One hears that Prof. Higgs had made up his mind to be untraceable today. BBC reports:

Professor Higgs is renowned for shying away from the limelight, and he could not be located for interview in the immediate aftermath of the announcement.

“He’s gone on holiday without a phone to avoid the media storm,” his Edinburgh University physics colleague Alan Walker told UK media, adding that Higgs had also been unwell.

But the university released a prepared statement from Higgs, who is emeritus professor of theoretical physics:

“I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy.

“I would also like to congratulate all those who have contributed to the discovery of this new particle and to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support.

“I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.”

Francois Englert said he was “very happy” to win the award, speaking at the ceremony via phone link.

“At first I thought I didn’t have it [the prize] because I didn’t see the announcement,” he told the committee, after their news conference was delayed by more than an hour.

Here are the links to the paper Broken Symmetry and the Mass of Gauge Vector Mesons by F. Englert and R. Brout and Broken Symmetries and the Masses of Gauge Bosons by Peter W. Higgs. The papers are available without subscriptions.

There is indignance on the far side of the Atlantic. Physical Review Letters reported:

“It’s unfortunate that the Nobel Prize is limited to only two recipients,” said R. Sekhar Chivukula (2010 chair of the APS Sakurai Prize Selection Committee), “because failing to recognize the work of Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble is a significant oversight. I’m glad that the APS could award a prestigious prize in a way that makes clear just how important they all were in establishing the foundations of contemporary particle physics.”

The 2010 Sakurai Prize cites Guralnik, Hagen, Kibble, Brout, Englert, and Higgs for “elucidation of the properties of spontaneous symmetry breaking in four-dimensional relativistic gauge theory and of the mechanism for the consistent generation of vector boson masses.”

Interestingly, this citation is carefully crafted to exclude P. W. Anderson by referring to four-dimensional relativistic gauge theory. Peter Higgs in his paper says: “This phenomenon is just the relativistic analog of the plasmon phenomenon to which Anderson has drawn attention”. It is unfortunate that the Nobel prize is not given to seven people. It is the nature of science that the process of discovery is diffuse. It is also the nature of myths and prizes that the story of discoveries is simplified.

Prizes in 2013: Physiology and medicine, Physics, Chemistry, literature, Peace, and Economics.


Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

October 8, 2013 at 12:23 pm

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  1. […] in 2013: Physiology and medicine, Physics, Chemistry, […]

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  4. […] in 2013: Physiology and medicine, Physics, Chemistry, literature, Peace, and […]

  5. […] in 2013: Physiology and medicine, Physics, Chemistry, literature, Peace, and […]

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