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Nobels 2013: Physics goes to Higgs and Englert

nature nobel

ALAMY

“This year’s prize is about something very small that makes all the difference,” said Staffan Normark, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in making the announcement today that Peter Higgs and Francois Englert had won the physics Nobel. Normark also name-checked the ATLAS and CMS detectors at CERN in his announcement.

The award goes to Englert, of the Free University of Brussels, and Higgs, of the University of Edinburgh, “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass subatomic particles”.

The researchers behind the so-called ‘Higgs particle’ have been widely expected to gain a Nobel at some point, especially after CERN confirmed the detection of such a particle in July last year, which is required in the standard model of physics.

The prize announcement states:

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.

In an article on who should get credit published in 2010, Nature noted:

The authorship question is fraught because the mechanism was developed independently by three groups within a matter of weeks in 1964. First up were Robert Brout and François Englert in Belgium, followed by Peter Higgs in Scotland, and finally Tom Kibble in London, along with his colleagues in the United States, Gerald Guralnik (at the time in London) and Carl R. Hagen.

(Brout died in 2011 and so could not be awarded the prize.)

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