Peter Higgs and Francois Englert have been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their theory of how particles acquire mass, The Swedish committee announced Tuesday.
In 1964, Higgs, of Britain and Englert of Belgium, along with a now-deceased colleague, proposed the theory independently. In July of last year, the existence of a key element of the theory, the Higgs Boson, was confirmed by the CERN laboratory’s Large Hadron Collider.
“The awarded theory is a central part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed,” the Nobel committee said in a statement. “According to the Standard Model, everything, from flowers and people to stars and planets, consists of just a few building blocks: matter particles. These particles are governed by forces mediated by force particles that make sure everything works as it should.The entire Standard Model also rests on the existence of a special kind of particle: the Higgs particle.”
“This particle originates from an invisible field that fills up all space. Even when the universe seems empty this field is there,” the committee said. “Without it, we would not exist, because it is from contact with the field that particles acquire mass. The theory proposed by Englert and Higgs describes this process.”
Higgs, 84, is from the University of Edinburgh. Englert, 80, is from the Free University of Brussels.
NPR science correspondent Geoffrey Brumfiel says “the field is what actually does all the work in theoretical physics. The Higgs particle (or Higgs boson) is an excitation of this field.”
“Higgs unifies the electromagnetic force with the weak nuclear force,” Brumfiel explains. “This brings [physicists] a bit closer to an elusive theory of everything.”