The winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Physics waited 48 years for the confirmation of his theory, but in some ways he grew to dread the moment of discoveryby Frank Close / October 8, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
Peter Higgs is used to delays. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist waited for sight of the eponymous “Higgs boson”—the “God particle” of media headlines—for 48 years. Then, on 4th July last year, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Cern, Geneva, announced the proof of this fundamental entity, but for which our material universe could not exist. But, the waiting was far from over for Higgs who had to endure another year of speculation of a different sort, before his achievement was finally capped on 8th October this year by the joint award of the Nobel Prize to himself and François Englert of the Université Libre de Bruxelles. In a final nail-biting twist, the announcement of his long-awaited victory was delayed by an hour as the committee struggled to reach the famously reclusive scientist. Unlike Samuel Becket’s Vladimir and Estragon, who waited for Godot in vain, Higgs has been successful.
I was watching on the Internet as the Nobel Committee explained that it had given the prize for the: “theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles…”. As tweets flooded my inbox it seemed that the whole of the physics world was watching too. All, but one it seems. Peter Higgs had gone on holiday to avoid the media storm. Without a phone. In a prepared statement released by the University of Edinburgh, Higgs expressed his humble thanks and said: “I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky resea…