On 8 October 2013, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 jointly to François Englert (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium) and Peter W. Higgs (University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom) “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider”.
“The European Physical Society joins with the international physics community in extending our warmest and most heartfelt congratulations to François Englert and Peter Higgs on the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 for predicting the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism,” says the EPS President John Dudley. “This outstanding honour to both laureates is the best exponent of a career full with prestigious accolades such as the High Energy and Particle Physics Prize from the European Physical Society in 1997.”
In 1964, F. Englert and P. Higgs – the former together with the late Robert Brout – independently formulated the Brout-Englert-Higgs [BEH] mechanism, better known as the mechanism that endows elementary particles with mass through the existence of the so-called Higgs boson1. Their work provided the key ingredient to complete the Standard Model of particle physics.
The Standard Model of particle physics describes all the fundamental particles from which all visible matter is made in the universe along with the interactions between three of the fundamental forces2 – electromagnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces – that govern their behaviour. However, when it was conceived it lacked of a mechanism to explain why some particles are massless (such as the photon, which is the carrier of the electromagnetic interaction), while other particles have mass (such as the W and Z bosons, which play a part in the weak nuclear force).
To circumvent this hurdle, the theory proposed by the laureates sets up an invisible field that surrounds us and interact with particles to endow them with mass. The Higgs boson is the particle associated to that field.
For more than four decades, physicists have assumed that the Higgs field existed but the BEH mechanism was the last remaining piece of the Standard Model to be experimentally verified.
In July 2012, CERN announced the discovery of the long-sought Higgs boson. By using the Large Hadron Collider [LHC], two research groups of some 3,000 scientists each, ATLAS and CMS, managed to extract the Higgs particle from billions of particle collisions in the LHC.
“The EPS also notes with very great pleasure the recognition in the official Nobel Prize citation of the ATLAS and CMS experiments carried out at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider,” adds the EPS President John Dudley. “The experiments at CERN that reported in July 2012 the discovery of the particle underlying the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism are a landmark achievement in the history of physics. The decades of theoretical studies and the monumental experimental effort at CERN have united thousands of physicists worldwide in an effort to penetrate to the limits of our understanding of nature, and to cement the foundations of particle physics.”
The Nobel Prize in Physics to F. Englert and P. Higgs is the culmination of a career full with distinguished accolades such as “The High Energy and Particle Physics Prize” from the European Physical Society in 1997, “The Wolf Prize in Physics” in 2004 and “The J.J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics” from the American Physical Society in 2010.
“I am very, very happy to have the recognition of this extraordinary reward,” said F. Englert minutes after the prize was announced. “I am overwhelmed to receive this award,” declared P. Higgs in a statement released by the University of Edinburgh, in which he also thanked all those who have contributed to the Higgs boson discovery, finally adding “I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.”
The award will be presented to both laureates during the Nobel Prize ceremony to be held in Stockholm, Sweden on 10 December 2013.
For more information, please visit the Nobel Prize website.
- The landmark papers were published in Physical Review Letters in 1964 and both are available free-to-read to the general public.
Broken Symmetry and the Mass of Gauge Vector Mesons
F. Englert and R. Brout, Phys. Rev. Lett. 13, 321 (1964)
- The fourth fundamental force – gravity – is not integrated in the Standard Model. [↩]