Peter Higgs

Peter Higgs awaits the July 4, 2012, official announcement that CERN has found evidence consistent with the Higgs boson that he predicted in the 1960's. CERN, copyright 2012

Peter Higgs is a British theoretical physicist, best known for developing a theory about a universal energy field that completed a key missing element of the standard model of particle physics, related to how certain particles manifest mass in our universe. He has spent the majority of his working career since earning his doctorate in 1954 at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

General Information:

Birth Date: May 29, 1929
Birthplace: Wallsend, North Tyneside, England

Education: King's College London

  • first class honours degree (undergraduate), 1950
  • master's degree, 1952
  • doctorate, 1954

The Higgs Mechanism:

In the 1960s, theoretical physics was having trouble explaining why certain fundamental particles had any mass at all. Building on hints and approaches developed by others, Peter Higgs put forward a theory in 1964 to explain the way that the fundamental laws of physics could work as expected but still result in the observed mass of fundamental particles. He suggested that there was a quantum field permeating all of space and that mass resulted from disturbances in this field, which is called the "Higgs field." This field was not perfectly symmetrical, and it was the broken symmetry within this field that caused the W Boson and Z Boson to have mass.

One of the results of this theory (sometimes also called the "Higgs mechanism") was to propose a new fundamental particle of the universe, the Higgs boson.

Unfortunately for efforts to detect the Higgs boson experimentally, the theory doesn't predict a precise mass value (or even a clear mass range) for the Higgs boson. This has forced experimentalists to begin searching through the possible mass ranges and narrow down the possibilities.

Higgs Boson Search:

In the years since its development, the Higgs mechanism has been incorporated as an element of the Standard Model of particle physics, but the Higgs boson has been the most elusive element of the Standard Model to detect experimentally.

The search for the Higgs boson is a major focus of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. On July 4, 2012, CERN made an announcement indicating that evidence has been found which strongly suggests they may have located a particle that is consistent with the what is expected to be true about the Higgs boson. Further tests have widely confirmed this discovery, and Dr. Higgs shared the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics with Francois Englert for the development of the theory. 

Personal Views:

Peter Higgs is an atheist and holds strong political views. He declined accepting an award for his work in Jerusalem, because he felt that it would imply support of Israeli policies in Palestine which he opposed. He supports environmental causes and has opposed nuclear weapon development, though he has broken with some official organizations that support these causes because he does not agree with the full extent of their activism. For example, he supports the use of genetically modified organisms and safe nuclear power.

Awards and Recognition:

  • 1983 - Named fellow of the Royal Society
  • 1984 - Awarded the Rutherford Medal and Prize
  • 1991 - Named fellow of the Institute of Physics
  • 1997 - Dirac Medal and Prize from the Institute of Physics
  • 1997 - High Energy and Particle Physics Prize by the European Physical Society
  • 2004 - Wolf Prize in Physics
  • 2008 - Honorary fellowship from Swansea University
  • 2010 - J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics
  • 2011 - The Edinburgh Award
  • 2013 - Nobel Prize in Physics
  • 2015 - Copley Medal from the Royal Society