‘They’ll find the God particle by
summer.’ And Peter Higgs should know
Published on Saturday
25 February 2012
Peter Higgs, pictured at Edinburgh University
Renowned physicist Professor Peter Higgs gives a
rare interview to Jenny Fyall as he receives the
THE fabled Higgs boson that will help
explain the origins of the universe will be found
this summer, the scientist who gave his name to the
particle has predicted.
Professor Peter Higgs told The
Scotsman he thought scientists at Cern working with
the Large Hadron Collider would find evidence that
the elusive particle exists within a matter of
The acclaimed 82-year-old theoretical
physicist came up with the now famous theory in 1964
which provides an explanation for the origins of
mass as a property of matter.
However, almost half a century later,
the Higgs boson that is a fundamental part of the
theory has still not been found.
“It’s found well enough to satisfy
quite a few people but not well enough to satisfy
the standards of Cern,” the professor said.
“The kind of certainty they want is
where it becomes a few million to one against it
being any other stray effect which might simulate
“It should be settled during the
He added: “To me it looks extremely
promising at the moment but the experimentalists
want it more cut and dried than it is at the
Prof Higgs was speaking ahead of a
ceremony last night to present him with the
prestigious Edinburgh Award for his contribution to
When the Higgs boson, which has
become known as the God Particle, is confirmed to
exist, he said he would celebrate by opening a
bottle of champagne.
Asked whether he was excited by the
revelations in December last year that data from the
Large Hadron Collider had provided the greatest
hints yet that the Higgs boson may exist, he said:
“From time to time yes. This is something I have
lived with for a long time now. It is nearly 48
years since I did this work in 1964.”
However, Prof Higgs, who does not own
a television, said he did not keep very closely up
to date with latest developments at Cern, relying
instead on his former colleagues to fill him in.
He had not heard the news, reported
on Thursday, that an explanation had been found for
the results of recent experiments at Cern that
seemed to show particles called neutrinos travelling
faster than the speed of light. It turned out a
loose cable could have been responsible.
He said: “That’s a relief. It looked
so surely like some sort of mistake but nobody knew
where the mistake was.”
If the Higgs boson is confirmed to
exist, Prof Higgs has been widely tipped to be in
line for a Nobel Prize.
“I find it hard to imagine but it’s
not recent news to me that it’s a possibility,” he
Asked how he deals with the attention
of being linked to the Higgs boson, the Emeritus
Professor at the University of Edinburgh, who rarely
gives interviews, said: “Since I’m getting older I
find it an advantage that it takes me some time to
walk to where my telephone is.”
And he suggested during yesterday’s
interview that he thought it was unfair that his
name alone had become linked to the particle.
Several other scientists came up with similar
theories at the same time.
He described how his name had been
“plastered all over everything to do with the
theory” and that this “neglected to give credit to
the other people involved”. He added: “A lot of
people have been involved in this in various ways.
When it comes to publicity I think the publicity
gets a bit biased sometimes.”
He revealed that rather than coming
to him during a flash of inspiration during a walk
in the Cairngorms in 1964, as commonly reported, the
theory had actually been formulated in Edinburgh.
“It was probably somewhere in
Edinburgh during a weekend in July,” he said. “It
wasn’t a sort of eureka moment. It was a gradual
Prof Higgs, who was born near
Newcastle but settled in Edinburgh after falling in
love with the city when he visited as a student,
revealed to The Scotsman yesterday that by carrying
out research into his family tree he had discovered
that both his grandfather, James Coghill, and
great-grandfather had also lived in the capital.
It turned out his great-grandfather,
who was born in Caithness in 1805, was a spirit
merchant on the Royal Mile next to what is now
Deacon Brodie’s Tavern.
“I rather fell for the city the first
time I saw it lit up at night,” he said. “There’s no
other city in the UK like it.
He said he was “very pleased” to have
been honoured with the Edinburgh Award.
“Edinburgh is my adopted home. It’s a
place where I wanted to come and live and I managed
to arrange my life so it happened.”
The physicist, who has two sons and
two grandchildren who all live in Edinburgh, added
that getting the award had cemented his feeling that
he was now “part of the Edinburgh scene”, which he
said had first been hinted to him when he discovered
he featured in one of Alexander McCall Smith’s 44
Scotland Street novels. Prof Higgs is the fifth
person to receive the Edinburgh Award, which is
given to people who have made an outstanding
contribution to the city.
He was presented with the Loving Cup
at a ceremony last night and his handprints have
been engraved in the stone in the City Chambers’
The Rt Hon George Grubb, Lord
Lieutenant and Lord Provost of the City of
Edinburgh, said: “His proposal of what has now
become known as the Higgs boson has not only
significantly advanced our knowledge of particle
physics, culminating in the Standard Model, but has
also given him a huge international reputation.
“Professor Higgs’ work with the
University of Edinburgh has put this city on an
international stage and as such he is undoubtedly a
most deserved recipient of one of Edinburgh’s most
prestigious civic awards.”
And Alan Walker, honorary fellow of
the University of Edinburgh and a member of the
Particle Physics Experiment Group said: “This award
is richly deserved, not only for the work that has
led to worldwide acclaim, but for his inspiration of
students, many of whom have gone on to do great
things. Indeed, some are currently involved in the
searches at the ATLAS detector for the Higgs boson.
“This is indeed a very proud day for
both the university and the City of Edinburgh.”
The theory: Mass – and why it just
Published on Saturday
25 February 2012
HIGGS became interested in what must
be one of the most curious puzzles in physics: why
the objects around us weigh anything.
Until recently, few even questioned
where mass comes from.
Isaac Newton coined the term in 1687
in his famous tome, Principia Mathematica, and for
200 years scientists were happy to think of mass as
Some objects had more mass than
others – a brick versus a book, say – and that was
that. But scientists now know the world is not so
simple. While a brick weighs as much as the atoms
inside it, according to the best theory physicists
have – one that has passed decades of tests with
flying colours – the basic building blocks inside
atoms weigh nothing at all. As matter is broken down
to ever smaller constituents, from molecules to
atoms to quarks, mass appears to evaporate before
Higgs came up with an elegant
mechanism to solve the problem. It showed that at
the very beginning of the universe, the smallest
building blocks of nature were truly weightless, but
became heavy a fraction of a second later, when the
fireball of the big bang cooled. His theory was a
breakthrough in itself, but something more profound
dropped out of his calculations.
Higgs’s theory showed that mass was
produced by a new type of field that clings to
particles wherever they are, dragging on them and
making the heavy. Some particles find the field more
sticky than others. Particles of light are oblivious
to it. Others have to wade through it like an
elephant in tar. So, in theory, particles can weigh
nothing, but as soon as they are in the field, they
Detecting the field itself is thought
to be impossible with modern technology, but Higgs
also predicted a particle that is created in the
field, and finding this would be the proof they
Officially, the particle is called
the Higgs boson, but its elusive nature and
fundamental role led a prominent scientist to rename
it the God particle.
from Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle by Ian
Peter Higgs: Lecturer who fell in
love with Scotland
Published on Saturday
25 February 2012
PETER Ware Higgs, now 82, was born in
Wallsend, North Tyneside in May 1929.
He became enthralled as a schoolboy
by Paul Dirac, Britain’s unsung hero of theoretical
As a child he received some of his
early schooling at home, partly due to his father’s
job as a sound engineer for the BBC, which meant the
family moved around a lot.
He graduated with a first-class
honours degree in physics from King’s College
London, as well as a masters and PhD.
In 1960 he took up a lecturing post
at the University of Edinburgh, a city he had fallen
in love with after he hitch-hiked to Scotland to go
walking in the Highlands as a student.
Four years later, Prof Higgs carried
out the work that has made him famous in the world
of physics and resulted in his portrait hanging in
the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
At that time, no-one realised his
research was important and in fact, the second paper
he wrote about it was rejected as irrelevant by
Europe’s leading journal for particle physics and he
had to send it to a rival American journal, Physical
Two other scientists, Robert Brout
and Francois Englert at the Free University of
Brussels, came to the same conclusions at a similar
time and it is said Prof Higgs can feel embarrassed
that the particle bears his name. On occasion he has
instead referred to it as the “boson named after
He retired in 1996 and is now
Emeritus Professor at the University of Edinburgh.
He has two sons, Chris, a computer
scientist, and Jonny, a jazz musician, and two
He has no television but spends his
time walking in the Highlands, playing with his
grandchildren, reading novels and enjoying classical
Confirmation of his place in
Edinburgh society was established with a mention in
Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street novels
The pioneer has already been awarded
the Wolf Prize – considered to be the second most
important prize in physics – but he refused to fly
to Jerusalem to receive the award, because he is
opposed to Israel’s actions in the Middle East.
The greatest prize is now in his
sights. If the hunt for the God particle is
successful, he is widely expected to be awarded the