Nobel Prize

Peter Higgs and Francois Englert win Nobel for 'God particle' theory

Britain’s Peter Higgs and Francois Englert of Belgium win the 2013 Nobel Prize for physics for predicting the existence of the Higgs boson

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 7:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 4:19am

Britain's Peter Higgs and Belgium's Francois Englert won the Nobel Prize for Physics for conceiving of the so-called "God particle".

Higgs, 84, and Englert, 80, were honoured for theorising a particle - discovered last year after an agonising quest - that explains why the universe has any substance at all.

"Without it, we would not exist, because it is from contact with the field that particles acquire mass," the jury said in a statement.

The announcement was delayed by one hour, which is highly unusual. The academy gave no immediate reason, other than saying on Twitter that it was "still in session" at the original announcement time. The academy decides the winners in a majority vote on the day of the announcement.

The delay drew a joking reaction from Englert. "I thought first I had to make a very low festivity because I didn't see any announcement," he said. "But now I'm very happy."

Staffan Normark, the academy's permanent secretary, declined to explain the delay. He said the committee could not get directly in touch with Higgs to inform him of the prize.

"Actually, we tried quite hard to get a hold of him, but of all the numbers we tried, he didn't answer," Normark said. The committee had to send him an e-mail instead.

The history of the discovery dates back to 1964, when six physicists, working independently in three groups, published a flurry of papers. The first were Belgians Robert Brout, who died in 2011, and Englert, who proposed a mechanism by which a mass-giving field of particles invaded the early universe, which until then was filled only with massless particles.

This was followed by Higgs, who was the first to suggest that mass could only occur through the existence of a hitherto unknown particle. Because of this, the now-discovered particle has been named after him.

Known as a boson, the discovery was popularly dubbed the "God particle" on the grounds that it is everywhere yet bafflingly elusive.

Shortly after the announcement, the University of Edinburgh posted a statement from Higgs saying he was "overwhelmed" by the honour.

"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," Higgs said.

Asked how it felt to be a Nobel winner, Englert, a bearded, bespectacled and snappily dressed emeritus professor at the Free University of Brussels, said: "You may imagine that this is not very unpleasant, of course. I am very, very happy to have the recognition of this extraordinary award.

"Of course I am happy to have won the prize, that goes without saying, but there is regret too that my colleague and friend, Robert Brout, is not there to share it."

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeastern England, Higgs holds a PhD from King's College in London. He lives quietly in the Scottish capital, where he is emeritus professor of theoretical physics. He is said to cringe every time his discovery is referred to as the "Higgs" boson, studiously avoiding the term himself.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Associated Press