STOCKHOLM: Peter Higgs of Britain and Francois Englert of Belgium won the Nobel Prize for Physics on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) for conceiving of the tantalising “God particle” which confers mass.
Higgs, 84, and Englert, 80, were honored for theorising a particle—discovered last year after an agonising quest—that explains why the Universe has substance.
“This particle originates from an invisible field that fills up all space. Even when the Universe seems empty this field is there,” the jury said in a statement.
“Without it, we would not exist, because it is from contact with the field that particles acquire mass.”
The University of Edinburgh posted a statement from Higgs saying he was “overwhelmed” by the honor.
“I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research,” he said.
Known as a boson, the discovery was popularly dubbed the “God Particle” on the grounds that it is everywhere yet bafflingly elusive.
Without it, say theorists, we and all the other joined-up atoms in the Universe would not exist.
The presumed particle was discovered last year by a mega-scale physics lab near Geneva operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), after a decades-long search.
“As an achievement, it ranks alongside the confirmation that the Earth is round or Man’s first steps on the Moon,” said Canadian particle physicist Pauline Gagnon.
Higgs and Englert, the latter of the Free University of Brussels, received the world’s most prestigious award for excellence in physics nearly a half century after they and others set down the conceptual foundations.
“Their work has helped shape our fundamental understanding of the world around us,” said John Pethica, vice president of Britain’s Royal Society.
The history of the discovery dates back to 1964, when six physicists, working independently in three groups, published a flurry of papers.
The first were Belgians Robert Brout, who died in 2011, and Englert, who proposed a mechanism by which a mass-giving field of particles invaded the early Universe, which until then was filled only with massless particles.