Peter Ware Higgs (born May 29, 1929), FRSE, FRS, is an emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh. Higgs is best known for his 1960s proposal of broken symmetry in electroweak theory, explaining the origin of mass of elementary particles in general and of the W and Z bosons in particular. This so-called Higgs mechanism, which had several inventors besides Higgs, predicts the existence of a new particle, the Higgs boson. Although this particle has not turned up in accelerator experiments so far, the Higgs mechanism is generally accepted as an important ingredient in the Standard Model of particle physics. Higgs conceived of the mechanism in 1964 while walking the Cairngorms, and returned to his lab declaring he had his "one big idea".
Higgs has been awarded a number of awards in recognition of his work, including the Dirac Medal and Prize for outstanding contributions to theoretical physics from the Institute of Physics, the 1997 High Energy and Particle Physics Prize by the European Physical Society, and the 2004 Wolf Prize in Physics.
Higgs was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. His father was a sound engineer with the BBC, and as a result of childhood asthma, together with the family moving around because of his father's job, and later the Second World War, Higgs missed some early schooling and was taught at home. When his father relocated to Bedford, Higgs stayed behind with his mother in Bristol, and was largely raised there. He attended that city's Cotham Grammar School, where he was inspired by the work of one of the school's alumni, Paul Dirac, who founded the field of quantum mechanics.
At the age of 17, Higgs moved to City of London School, where he specialized in mathematics, then to King's College London, and in his 30s, to Edinburgh University. It was at Edinburgh that he first became interested in mass, developing the idea that particles were weightless when the universe began, acquiring mass a fraction of a second later, as a result of interacting with a theoretical field now known as the Higgs field. Higgs postulated that this field permeates space, giving all elementary subatomic particles that interact with it their mass. While the Higgs field is postulated to confer mass on quarks and leptons, it represents only a tiny portion of the masses of other subatomic particles, such as protons and neutrons. In these, gluons that bind quarks together confer most of the particle mass.
The Large Hadron Collider is designed to recreate the conditions
that existed immediately after the Big Bang
Large Hadron Collider could unlock secrets of the Big Bang
Richard Gray 06/04/2008
The world's largest and most expensive science experiment, the new particle accelerator buried 300ft beneath the Alpine foothills along the Swiss French border is 17 miles long and up to 12 stories high. It is designed to generate temperatures of more than a trillion degrees centigrade. The £4.4 billion machine - the Large Hadron Collider - is aiming to unlock the secrets of how the universe began. Scientists will use it to try to recreate the conditions that existed just a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the birth of the universe, by smashing pieces of atoms together at high speed.
Image from http://www.gridpp.ac.uk/cubes/
The Sunday Telegraph joined the scientist Peter Higgs, a professor of particle physics at Edinburgh University, whose 40-year-old theories about an elusive particle known as the Higgs boson may finally be proved as part of the huge experiment, as he toured the site for the first time. This weekend will be the last time visitors will be given access to the tunnel that houses the accelerator ring. From tomorrow, it will be completely closed off while technicians make the final preparations before it is turned on in July when, it is hoped, it will begin revealing what the matter and energy that created the universe was really like. What happens afterwards could change our understanding of the world. Most experts believe the explosions created when the particles hit each other will reveal the basic building blocks of everything around us. There are some, however, who fear it could destroy the planet.
A lawsuit filed last week by environmentalists in Hawaii is seeking a restraining order preventing the European Nuclear Research Centre from switching it on for fear it could create a black hole that will suck up all life on Earth. "The Large Hadron Collider is like a time machine that is going to take us further back towards the Big Bang than we have ever been before by recreating the conditions that existed there. "We are going to see new types of matter we haven't been able to see before," said Professor Frank Close, a particle physicist at Oxford University. "The idea that it could cause the end of the world is ridiculous."
Housed in a subterranean lair that would provide a suitable home for a Hollywood super-villain, it is hardly surprising there are conspiracy theories surrounding the work being carried out on the collider. The tunnel is large enough to drive a train through and so long that the curve is barely noticeable. To reach it requires a two-minute lift journey from ground level. Down below the scene is a mass of cables, tubes, electronics and metal panels.
Atomic particles will spiral though a series of rings, lined with powerful magnets that will accelerate the particles till they reach close to the speed of light. Each particle will race around the 17-mile route 11,245 times every second before being smashed headlong into each other, breaking them into their component parts, releasing huge amounts of energy and debris. The temperatures produced by these collisions will be 100,000 times hotter than the centre of the sun and scientists believe this will be powerful enough to reveal the first particles that existed in the moments immediately after the birth of the universe.
This massive experiment will create more than 15 million gigabytes of data every year - the equivalent of 21.4 million CDs. The scientists have had to design a new form of the internet to cope with the data. Six separate detectors have been positioned around the collider ring to allow scientists to examine what happens. Among the particles they will hunt for is the Higgs boson, a cornerstone of modern physics that is thought to be responsible for giving every other particle its mass, or weight.
Immediately after the Big Bang all particles are thought to have had no mass. As the temperature cooled, the Higgs boson "stuck" to them, making them heavy. Some particles are more "sticky" than others and so gain more weight. A massive detector known as Atlas is among those that will be hunting for the Higgs boson. As big as Canterbury Cathedral and weighing more than 100 747 jumbo jet aircraft, it is one of the most impressive parts of the collider.
Professor Jonathan Butterworth, a physicist at University College London who is among the UK scientists involved in the Atlas experiment, said: "If we find the Higgs boson then it will prove our standard model of particle physics. "If we don't find it then nature may have another way of giving particles mass and that is going to turn science on its head."
Two elevator rides and a 10-minute car journey away on the other side of the giant accelerator, another part of the experiment, dubbed Alice, will recreate the superheated gas, or plasma, that existed when the universe was formed. The collider may also reveal more exotic phenomena such as anti-matter, the opposite of ordinary matter, mini black holes and even extra dimensions.
"At the level of energy we will be creating normal matter doesn't exist. I expect we will see some things that are entirely new and could turn our current understanding of physics on its head," said Dr David Evans, a physicist from Birmingham University who has been working on the Alice project.
"Answering these new questions will be more exciting than proving theories that already exist."
String theory and parallel universes
CERN could replicate the Big Bang
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