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October 08, 2013

2013 Nobel Prize in Physics for Research on Subatomic Particles

2013 Nobel Prize in Physics for Research on Subatomic ParticlesThe 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics goes to Peter W. Higgs (University of Edinburgh, UK) and François Englert (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium) for showing how fundamental particles get their mass. The researchers received the prize 50 years after elucidating the so-called Brout–Englert–Higgs (BEH) mechanism, which is an essential part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed. Higgs and Englert (together with his now deceased colleague Robert Brout) proposed the theory independently of each other in 1964, but they had to wait half a century to see their predictions confirmed. The scientists were among six physicists who contributed to the development of the new idea at that time. In July, 2012, the theory was finally backed up by the discovery of a new subatomic particle –the Higgs boson– by two separate teams working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

The Standard Model is a remarkably successful theory that has been thoroughly tested by experiment over many years (the BEH mechanism being the last remaining piece of the model to be experimentally verified). It entirely rests on the existence of the Higgs particle, which 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", the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. The existence of this field (now known as the Higgs field) was proposed in three papers published independently in the 1960s: One was by Higgs, another was by Englert and Brout, and the third one was by Tom Kibble (Imperial College London, UK), Carl Hagen (University of Rochester, USA), and Gerald Guralnik (Brown University, USA). But this paper came last, and since traditionally no more than three people are allowed to share a single prize, its authors were not included in this year's recognition. On hearing about the award, Kibble said: "I am glad to see that the Swedish Academy has recognized the importance of the mass-generating mechanism for gauge theories and the prediction of the Higgs boson, recently verified at CERN. My two collaborators, Gerald Guralnik and Carl Richard Hagen, and I contributed to that discovery, but our paper was unquestionably the last of the three to be published… and it is therefore no surprise that the Swedish Academy felt unable to include us".

Proving the theory correct took several decades and involved the work of many scientists. The search for the Higgs boson was also one of the main motivations to build the LHC –the world's largest particle accelerator. All these efforts have finally been rewarded. "I'm thrilled that this year's Nobel prize has gone to particle physics", said CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer. "The discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN last year, which validates the BEH mechanism, marks the culmination of decades of intellectual effort by many people around the world".

Image: Nobel Medal (© ® The Nobel Foundation). Further information at

Kira Welter

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