Higgs at birthday celebration for Michael Atiyah, April 2009
|Born||Peter Ware Higgs
29 May 1929
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
|Institutions||University of Edinburgh
Imperial College London
King's College London
University College London
|Alma mater||King's College London|
|Thesis||Some problems in the theory of molecular vibrations (1955)|
|Doctoral advisor||Charles Coulson|
|Doctoral students||Christopher Bishop
|Known for||Broken symmetry in electroweak theory
|Notable awards||Wolf Prize in Physics (2004)
Sakurai Prize (2010)
Dirac Medal (1997)
He is best known for his 1960s proposal of broken symmetry in electroweak theory, explaining the origin of mass of elementary particles in general and of the W and Z bosons in particular. This so-called Higgs mechanism, which was proposed by several physicists besides Higgs at about the same time, predicts the existence of a new particle, the Higgs boson (which was often described as "the most sought-after particle in modern physics"). CERN announced on 4 July 2012 that they had experimentally established the existence of a Higgs-like boson, but further work is needed to analyse its properties and see if it has the properties expected from the Standard Model Higgs boson. On 14 March 2013, the newly discovered particle was tentatively confirmed to be + parity and zero spin, two fundamental criteria of a Higgs boson, making it the first known scalar particle to be discovered in nature. The Higgs mechanism is generally accepted as an important ingredient in the Standard Model of particle physics, without which certain particles would have no mass.
Peter has been honoured with a number of awards in recognition of his work, including the 1981 Hughes Medal from the Royal Society, the 1984 Rutherford Medal from the Institute of Physics, the 1997 Dirac Medal and Prize for outstanding contributions to theoretical physics from the Institute of Physics, the 1997 High Energy and Particle Physics Prize by the European Physical Society, the 2004 Wolf Prize in Physics, the 2009 Oskar Klein Memorial Lecture medal from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the 2010 American Physical Society J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics and a unique Higgs Medal from the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2012. The recent potential discovery of the Higgs boson prompted fellow physicist Stephen Hawking to note that he thought that Higgs should receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work.
Higgs was born in the Elswick district of Newcastle upon Tyne, England to an English father and Scottish mother. His father worked as a sound engineer for the BBC, and as a result of childhood asthma, together with the family moving around because of his father's job and later World War II, Higgs missed some early schooling and was taught at home. When his father relocated to Bedford, Higgs stayed behind with his mother in Bristol, and was largely raised there. He attended Cotham Grammar School in Bristol from 1941-46, where he was inspired by the work of one of the school's alumni, Paul Dirac, a founder of the field of quantum mechanics.
In 1946, at the age of 17 Higgs moved to City of London School, where he specialized in mathematics, then in 1947 to King's College London where he graduated with a first class honours degree in Physics in 1950, achieved a master's degree in 1951, and a Ph.D in 1954. He became a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh during his time there (1954-56), then held various posts at Imperial College London and University College London where he also became a temporary lecturer in Mathematics. He returned to the University of Edinburgh in 1960 to take up the post of Lecturer at the Tait Institute of Mathematical Physics, allowing him to settle in the city he had enjoyed while hitchhiking to the Western Highlands as a student in 1949. He was promoted to Reader in 1970 and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1983.
Higgs was promoted to a personal chair of Theoretical Physics at Edinburgh in 1980. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1983, was awarded the Rutherford Medal and Prize in 1984, and became a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in 1991. He retired in 1996 and became Emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh. In 2008 he received an Honorary Fellowship from Swansea University for his work in particle physics.
At Edinburgh Higgs first became interested in mass, developing the idea that particles - massless when the universe began - acquired mass a fraction of a second later as a result of interacting with a theoretical field (which became known as the Higgs field). Higgs postulated that this field permeates space, giving all elementary subatomic particles that interact with it their mass.
The Higgs mechanism postulates the existence of the Higgs field which confers mass on quarks and leptons. However this causes only a tiny portion of the masses of other subatomic particles, such as protons and neutrons. In these, gluons that bind quarks together confer most of the particle mass.
The original basis of Higgs' work came from the Japanese-born theorist and Nobel Prize winner Yoichiro Nambu from the University of Chicago. Professor Nambu had proposed a theory known as spontaneous symmetry breaking based on what was known to happen in superconductivity in condensed matter; however, the theory predicted massless particles (the Goldstone's theorem), a clearly incorrect prediction.
Higgs is reported to have come up with the basic fundamentals of his theory after coming back to his Edinburgh New Town apartment from a failed weekend camping trip to the Highlands, although he has also said that there was no "eureka moment" in the development of the theory. He wrote a short paper exploiting a loophole in Goldstone's theorem (massless Goldstone particles need not occur when local symmetry is spontaneously broken in a relativistic theory} and published it in Physics Letters, a European physics journal edited at CERN, in Switzerland, in 1964.
Higgs wrote a second paper describing a theoretical model (now called the Higgs mechanism), but the paper was rejected (the editors of Physics Letters judged it "of no obvious relevance to physics"). Higgs wrote an extra paragraph and sent his paper to Physical Review Letters, another leading physics journal, which published it later in 1964. This paper predicted a new massive spin-zero boson (now known as the Higgs Boson). Other physicists, Robert Brout and Francois Englert and Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen and Tom Kibble had reached similar conclusions about the same time. In the published version Higgs quotes Brout and Englert and the third paper quotes the previous ones. The three papers written on this boson discovery by Higgs, Guralnik, Hagen, Kibble, Brout, and Englert were each recognized as milestone papers by Physical Review Letters 50th anniversary celebration. While each of these famous papers took similar approaches, the contributions and differences between the 1964 PRL symmetry breaking papers are noteworthy. The mechanism had been proposed in 1962 by Philip Anderson although he did not include a crucial relativistic model.
On 4 July 2012, CERN announced the ATLAS and CMS experiments had seen strong indications for the presence of a new particle, which could be the Higgs boson, in the mass region around 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV). Speaking at the seminar in Geneva, Higgs commented "It's really an incredible thing that it's happened in my lifetime." Ironically, this probable confirmation of the Higgs Boson was made at the same place where the editor of Physics Letters rejected Higgs paper.
Higgs was the recipient of the Edinburgh Award for 2011. He is the fifth person to receive the Award, which was established in 2007 by the City of Edinburgh Council to honour an outstanding individual who has made a positive impact on the city and gained national and international recognition for Edinburgh.
Higgs was presented with an engraved loving cup by the Rt Hon George Grubb, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, in a ceremony held at the City Chambers on Friday 24 February 2012. The event also marked the unveiling of his handprints in the City Chambers quadrangle, where they had been engraved in Caithness stone alongside those of previous Edinburgh Award recipients.
On 6 July 2012, Edinburgh University announced that a new centre named after Professor Higgs is to support future research in theoretical physics. The Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics will bring together scientists from around the world to seek "a deeper understanding of how the universe works". The centre will be based within the James Clerk Maxwell Building, home of the University's School of Physics and Astronomy. The university will also establish a chair in the name of Peter Higgs. 
A portrait of Higgs was painted by Ken Currie in 2008. Commissioned by the University of Edinburgh, it was unveiled on 3 April 2009 and hangs in the entrance of the James Clerk Maxwell Building of the School of Physics and Astronomy and the School of Mathematics.
Higgs was an activist in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) while in London and later in Edinburgh, but resigned his membership when the group extended its remit from campaigning against nuclear weapons to campaigning against nuclear power too. He was a Greenpeace member until the group opposed genetically modified organisms.
Higgs was awarded the 2004 Wolf Prize in Physics (sharing it with Brout and Englert), but he refused to fly to Jerusalem to receive the award because it was a state occasion attended by the then president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, and Higgs is opposed to Israel's actions in Palestine.
Higgs is an atheistand thus does not hold a religious faith but notes that many scientists in his field do, and argues that belief and science can co-exist. He has accused Richard Dawkins of adopting a “fundamentalist” approach when dealing with believers. He is displeased that the Higgs particle is nicknamed the "God particle", as he believes the term "might offend people who are religious". Usually this nickname for the Higgs boson is attributed to Leon Lederman, the author of the book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?, but the name is the result of the insistence of Lederman's publisher: Lederman had originally intended to refer to it as the "goddamn particle".
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