Peter Higgs, the physicist whose paper in 1964 sparked the search for the theoretical particle named after him, said he didn’t expect it to be found in his lifetime.
Scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, working on the origins of matter said this week they discovered a particle that may support the Higgs theory of physics. They now need to look at the structure of the particle to see what it’s made of, Higgs said.
“At the beginning I had no idea a discovery would be made in my lifetime,” Higgs, 83, said at a press conference in the Old College at the University of Edinburgh, where he worked from 1960 until his retirement in 1996. “It’s very nice to be right sometimes.”
The particle is the final piece of the jigsaw in the Standard Model, a theory explaining how the universe is built, and its existence would help scientists gain a better understanding of how galaxies hold together. The observed particle is the heaviest boson ever found, said Joe Incandela, spokesman for one of the experiments at CERN, at a seminar at its Geneva headquarters on July 4.
Stephen Hawking, a British theoretical physicist who thought the Higgs boson wouldn’t be found, has said Higgs should get a Nobel Prize. Higgs said the awarding committee would have to change its rules to allow more people to share the prize because five of the six theorists are still alive. The Nobel Foundation’s statutes say the prizes can’t be divided among more than three people.
Scientists will next look at whether the newly discovered boson is an elemental one or a composite of others, said Richard Kenway, professor of mathematical physics in Edinburgh. The university today announced a new Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics with an initial budget of 750,000 pounds ($1.2 million) for academic staff and research programs.
Higgs said there was “lots more to do.” His advice to scientists taking on the next challenges was to “keep at it.”
Particle physics is the study of the elemental building blocks that make up matter. These particles, with names such as quark, fermion, lepton and boson, can’t be subdivided. They exist and interact within several unseen “fields” that permeate the universe.
Scientists are trying to prove the existence of the Higgs field by displaying a physical effect for the Higgs boson, a particle that lives for less than a trillionth of a second and is an excitation, or force, within the Higgs field.
The data presented in Geneva this week were the latest from the $10.5 billion Large Hadron Collider, a 27-kilometer (17-mile) circumference particle accelerator buried on the border of France and Switzerland. CERN has 10,000 scientists working on the project, in which billions of subatomic particles are hurled at each other at velocities approaching the speed of light.
The collider will provide more data later this year, giving scientists a more complete picture of the observed new particle.