17.8 C
New York
Wednesday, May 8, 2024

physicist who predicted boson that explains why particles have mass

Portrait of Peter Higgs

Credit score: Toni Albir/EPA/Shutterstock

Throughout a couple of weeks in the summertime of 1964, Peter Higgs, a theoretical physicist on the College of Edinburgh, UK, wrote two brief papers outlining his concepts for a mechanism that might give mass to basic particles, the constructing blocks of the Universe. His goal was to rescue a concept that was mathematically interesting however in the end unrealistic as a result of the particles it described had no mass. The second paper drew consideration to a measurable consequence of his proposal — it predicted the existence of a brand new large particle. Practically half a century later, the invention of the anticipated particle introduced Higgs, who has died aged 94, a share of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The mechanism Higgs described grew to become a key part of the usual mannequin of particle physics through the Seventies, however the related particle remained stubbornly elusive. Then, in 2012, two large experiments run by greater than 6,000 physicists at CERN, Europe’s high-energy physics laboratory close to Geneva, Switzerland, found one thing with the suitable properties. By then, the particle had achieved fame because the Higgs boson, though the self-effacing Higgs would normally check with it as ‘the scalar boson’ in reference to its key attribute of getting no intrinsic spin.

Higgs was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1929, however his father’s work as a sound engineer for the BBC took the household to Bristol, the place Higgs attended Cotham Grammar College. There, he noticed a number of mentions on the honours boards of a earlier pupil, Paul Dirac, who had earned a share of the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in quantum mechanics. Impressed, Higgs took up physics at King’s Faculty London, the place he obtained a PhD in 1954.

As a hitch-hiking pupil, Higgs had found a liking for Edinburgh, so in 1960 he was blissful to be appointed as a lecturer there. He picked up on a long-standing curiosity in symmetry in subatomic particle physics, impressed specifically by the work of the longer term Nobel prizewinner Yoichiro Nambu, a Japanese American physicist then on the College of Chicago in Illinois. In physics, symmetry is linked to the conservation of portions akin to vitality, momentum and electrical cost. Engaged on a concept that had an underlying symmetry however wherein particles had no mass, Nambu was making an attempt to generate mass via a mechanism generally known as spontaneous symmetry breaking. Nonetheless, such symmetry breaking would additionally produce massless particles with zero spin, for which there was no proof.

This appeared a lifeless finish, however in 1964, Higgs realized that it was doable to get spherical the issue utilizing gauge concept, which has the type of symmetry discovered, for instance, within the established concept of electromagnetism. Higgs confirmed that the massless particles related to spontaneous symmetry breaking grow to be ‘absorbed’ into large particles. He revealed two brief papers on this theme1,2, the second of which explicitly predicted a large spin-zero particle. It fell to different physicists to understand that this mechanism for spontaneous symmetry breaking was key to a mathematically coherent gauge concept of particle physics that unites the electromagnetic interactions between particles with the weak interactions concerned in sure types of radioactivity. This Nobel-prizewinning ‘electro-weak concept’ grew to become one of many twin pillars of the usual mannequin of particle physics, and was effectively established by experiments by the Nineteen Nineties.

The sector had appeared one thing of a scientific backwater within the Sixties, however Higgs was not working alone. Two different papers have been revealed in 1964 on the mechanism3,4, one showing simply earlier than his personal. However solely Higgs drew consideration to the related large spin‑zero particle, which within the Seventies started to be known as the Higgs boson. The catchy title caught.

Round this time, after his marriage broke down, Higgs discovered he was dropping his method in theoretical particle physics. Along with instructing, he grew to become concerned within the union facet of college life and wrote few physics papers. Nonetheless, as appreciation of his work on spontaneous symmetry breaking grew, he was more and more requested to present talks, a preferred title being ‘My life as a boson’. He retired in 1996.

The award of the Nobel prize to Higgs and Belgian physicist François Englert — the surviving writer of the paper revealed simply earlier than Higgs’s in 1964 — got here as little shock to anybody, together with Higgs, as a result of it had been mooted for the reason that Nineteen Eighties. Nonetheless, curiosity within the Higgs boson had elevated over time, not solely amongst particle physicists but additionally among the many common public and the media. It reached fever pitch after the development of CERN’s Massive Hadron Collider, which was billed by many because the machine that may uncover the final lacking piece of the usual mannequin. This intense curiosity introduced fame at a degree nobody may have imagined within the Sixties, and the quiet physicist grew to become a media star, earlier than retiring for a second time when he reached 85.

A eager music lover, Higgs had little curiosity within the trappings of recent know-how — he famously had no tv and didn’t use the Web. But he was removed from being distant from the world. He had a powerful social conscience and was a member of the Marketing campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Greenpeace at numerous occasions. Humble in lots of respects, with an infectious sense of humour, he was pleased with the work that he had all the time recognized was essential and which in the end introduced him fame.

Competing Pursuits

The writer declares no competing pursuits.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles