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scientists comment on death of Professor Peter Higgs

Scientists react to the death of Professor Peter Higgs. 


Professor Frank Close OBE FRS, Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford, said:

“Peter Higgs and his boson were both elusive. He disliked the limelight but was comfortable with friends and colleagues. His boson took 48 years to appear, and when the Nobel was announced, he had disappeared to his favourite sea food bar in Leith.

“The vacuum is filled with a weird essence called the Higgs field. We need it like fish need water: without nothing we know would exist. How do we know? Like an electric or magnetic field can burst into light – strike a match, so the Higgs field can if you heat the vacuum by using the LHC.

“Bosons were everywhere at the hot big bang but as universe cooled, they went into slumber. We resurrected them in 2012.

“Surprisingly, nature seems to have followed the original Higgs theory which was the simplest way the maths worked. I think we all expected SOMETHING was there, but anticipated nature would use some clever trick we hadn’t thought of.

“Higgs is the source of mass of fundamental particles such as the W boson that controls the weak force – responsible for converting hydrogen to helium in the sun, so slowly that evolution had time to happen. For the Higgs mass mechanism (which others also came up with – he alone descried the boson) the W would have had no mass and in consequence the weak force would have been so powerful the solar fuel would be long gone. So, existence depends on the Higgs mechanism – it is not just arcane stuff.”


Professor Daniela Bortoletto, Head of Particle Physics at the University of Oxford, said:

“I am saddened by the news of Peter Higgs’s death. He was one of the giants in theoretical particle physics. His seminal work on “Broken symmetries and the masses of gauge bosons” altered the trajectory of particle physics and motivated generations of physicists to search for the Higgs boson, which was finally found at the LHC in 2012. Despite his monumental achievements, Higgs remained remarkably modest, displaying a profound dedication to education and commitment to the development of young scientists.”


Professor Michael Duff FRS, Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London, said: 

“As a colleague of Tom Kibble in the Theoretical Physics Group at Imperial College, I was familiar with the Higgs-Kibble mechanism (as it was then called) for which Peter Higgs and Francois Englert later shared the Nobel Prize in 2013.  But I got to know him personally when we were both frequent guests at the Summer Schools organized by Antonino Zichichi in Erice, Sicily. Peter was famously modest and embarrassed by all the attention he received. He disliked emails and among the most valued items in my physics memorabilia are seven hand-written letters dating from 1991 to 2007 including his 2001 lecture​ ‘My life as a boson.’ 

“His letters were always friendly and often witty, especially when reminiscing about his youth, for example his 1957 postdoctoral fellowship at Imperial College where Theoretical Physics was still in its temporary home in the Maths Department . ”The group was housed in slum conditions in prefabricated cubicles behind a lecture theatre in the (old) Huxley Building. And Imperial College food was the worst in the whole (of London) University.”

“After winning the Nobel,  Peter Higgs remarked that Tom Kibble should have been the third person on the podium. Their explanation of how elementary particles acquire their mass will persist, as part of human understanding of the physical universe, for centuries to come.


Roger Highfield, Science Director, Science Museum Group, said:

“For me, Peter Higgs represented the jaw dropping power of the human imagination,  in the form of mathematical theory. It was Higgs, among others, who first worked out what gave particles mass and it still gives me goosebumps to think that it took half a century, £5 billion  and two teams, each consisting of 4000 scientists, at the CERN laboratory, Geneva, to confirm his thinking. On a more personal note, I can also fondly remember helping him into his cab after he helped us launch our Collider exhibition at the Science Museum about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. He needed help because he was clutching bottles of London Pride beer, his favourite tipple, which had been labelled in his honour to mark his Nobel prize.”


Professor Sir Keith Burnett CBE, President of the Institute of Physics said: 

“Everyone at the Institute for Physics would like to express our condolences to the family and many friends of Professor Peter Higgs, a true giant of physics.

“Professor Higg’s legacy as the proposer of the Higgs boson and as the joint winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics made him one of the most significant figures in world science and his life’s work is certain to continue to inspire, inform and advance our understanding of the universe for many generations to come.” 


Professor Joel Goldstein, theme lead for Particle Physics in the School of Physics at the University of Bristol, said:

“Peter Higgs’ most famous breakthrough was to figure out how the fundamental particles of nature (electron, quarks etc.) could acquire mass via an interaction with a new, hypothesised field with specific properties. The conclusive evidence for this field was the discovery of the corresponding “Higgs” boson in 2012 by the ATLAS and CMS experiments (with Bristol particle physicists making significant contributions to the latter experiment). 

“Peter Higgs was a quiet and modest man, who never seemed comfortable with the fame he achieved even though this work underpins the entire modern theoretical framework of particle physics.”


Sir Ian Blatchford, Director and Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group, said:

‘Peter Higgs was a brilliant scientist who helped us to understand the fundamental building blocks of our universe. We were honoured to celebrate his discovery of the Higgs boson through the Collider exhibition at the Science Museum and his work continues to inspire people today.’


Professor Sinead Farrington FRSE who is Professor of Experimental Particle Physics and Head of Institute of Particle and Nuclear Physics at the University of Edinburgh [home of Professor Higgs], said:

‘Professor Peter Higgs’ renowned work in theoretical particle physics, which was published in 1964, elucidated the mechanism by which the known fundamental particles acquire their mass.  This set in train a sixty year experimental endeavour to find evidence for the particle this mechanism predicted, and which would be its calling card.  

The impact of this work was to answer a profound question, namely how mass is given to particles.  The insight that Higgs had was to design a specially shaped field that would allow an interaction with other Standard Model particles and in particular to give mass to the distinctly non-zero mass W and Z bosons, inferred at that time in the 1960s from the short range nature of the weak force.  

As an experimental physicist, it’s been an exciting journey to first find the evidence for the Higgs boson at the ATLAS and CMS experiments in 2012, and since then the evidence has only got stronger that this particle seems to conform so well to exactly the predictions made by Higgs, Brout and Englert.  The Higgs boson interacts with other particles in what seems to be exactly the predicted way – first with the W, Z and photon particles then the tau, bottom and top particles.  

The Higgs boson’s fundamental quantum interactions also appear as predicted.  We’re still on an exciting journey to figure out whether some further predictions are true, namely whether the Higgs boson interacts with itself in the predicted way, and whether it might decay to other beyond the Standard Model particles.’


Professor Tina Potter and Dr Harry Cliff  from the High Energy Physics Group at the Cavendish Laboratory (University of Cambridge), said:

“It is with heavy hearts that we hear of the passing of the great Professor Peter Higgs. His work on the origin of mass is the keystone of our standard model of particles and forces. Understanding the particle he first predicted in 1964 will be the great mission of particle physics well into the latter half of this century. The Cambridge High Energy Group at the Cavendish Laboratory would like to offer our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”


Professor Alan Barr, Professor of Physics at University of Oxford, said:

“What sad news. 

From the mind of Professor Higgs came ideas which have had a profound impact on our understanding of the universe, of matter and of mass. He proposed the existence of a field that pervades the entire universe, that mass to particles from electrons to top quarks.  

He was also a true gentleman, humble and polite, always giving due credit to others, and gently encouraging future generations of scientists and scholars.”


Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said:

“Peter Higgs was a remarkable individual – a truly gifted scientist whose vision and imagination have enriched our knowledge of the world that surrounds us. His pioneering work has motivated thousands of scientists, and his legacy will continue to inspire many more for generations to come”.



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