I had the tremendous pleasure of watching the Nobel Prize announcement on October 8 during the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft’s Live from Stockholm event held at the Magnus-Haus in Berlin. The assembly of high-level scientists and journalists made for a stimulating mix, and the delay prior to the announcement provided much opportunity for speculation and animated discussion! Of course, when it eventually was made, the announcement of the award to François Englert and Peter Higgs was met with tremendous pleasure. More details and background to this years’s Nobel Prize is given in another entry of this edition of e-EPS.
But while I was following the reactions worldwide throughout the day, what was wonderful to see as a physicist were the comments from the experimental teams at CERN. The Direction of CERN immediately congratulated the laureates, but then they straightaway focused on the future and the work that still needs to be carried out to push physics even further into new territories. The quote from Rolf-Dieter Heuer is worth repeating: “It is high time for us to go on to the dark universe”. Indeed!
This really epitomises what physics is all about. We are proud of our successes when they come (never often enough of course) but we realise that anything that we discover is just part of an ongoing process. This is something that every scientist understands, but we need to be careful that the scientific method of constant questioning and research and discovery is explained very carefully and very often to the public at large. The story of the theoretical prediction and experimental confirmation of the Brout-Englert-Higgs Mechanism is one that has captured the public imagination. But in stressing the success of one discovery, we must also point out with conviction that discoveries do not signal the end of research, but are just steps in a continual effort to unravel the structure of nature.
This is an important message to stress both to the public and to decision-makers. It is only with continued support for and investment in physics research that we will be able to move forward and obtain the scientific and societal benefits that we all seek. Let’s get to work!