Englert and Higgs win the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics


After a fifty-year wait, it seemed fitting that the public should wait an extra 45 minutes to hear the words that particle physicists had been wanting to hear since July 4 2012, that the winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics were François Englert and Peter W. Higgs. Englert and Higgs received the Prize “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 Brout-Englert-Higgs (BEH) mechanism was first proposed in 1964 in two papers published independently, the first by Belgian physicists Robert Brout and François Englert, and the second by British physicist Peter Higgs. It explains how the force responsible for beta decay is much weaker than electromagnetism, but is better known as the mechanism that endows fundamental particles with mass. A third paper, published by Americans Gerald Guralnik and Carl Hagen with their British colleague Tom Kibble further contributed to the development of the new idea, which now forms an essential part of the Standard Model of particle physics. As was pointed out by Higgs, a key prediction of the idea is the existence of a massive boson of a new type, which was discovered by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN in 2012.

That the discovery itself of the Higgs boson by the ATLAS and CMS experiment collaborations and CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), were mentioned but not awarded the prize may seem a little surprising. Awarding the Nobel Physics Prize to more than three awardees has not occurred to date. Trying to award it to 6000 particle physicists and a laboratory of accelerator scientists may be just too hard, but change is being discussed.

In this field the award of the Prize to the theoretical proponents of important new physics, only after its experimental discovery has a precedent. The 2008 Nobel prize went to Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa "for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature", only after the discovery that broken symmetry in the B-meson system by the Belle (Japan) and BaBar (US) experiment collaborations.

CoEPP is delighted in the results of this Prize. Australian high energy physics groups in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, play important roles in both Belle and ATLAS. CoEPP researchers continue to be at the forefront of international physics.