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11 Oct 2013

Influencer of the Week – Professor Peter Higgs

Posted on October 11, 2013 by

It’s not often that you will see us bestow the honour of influencer of the week and openly admit to not really understanding quite what we’re giving it for.  But this is one of those weeks and we’re pretty sure that if you stick with us you’ll at least understand why the recipient is influential, if not what he actually did.

Our influencer of the week goes to Professor Peter Higgs, who this week received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his 1964 work on the existence of a particle known as the Higgs Boson.

For 49 years, the theory he developed with fellow recipient, Belgian Scientist Francois Englert, has been the cornerstone of the standard model of particle physics (how the universe and cosmos was formed and works, to you and me).

Basically it’s an explanation of why everything, including us, are not just blobs of light whizzing about a big empty space.  (I beg the forgiveness of Mr Hammond my GCSE Physics teacher for this definition, I promise I really did pay attention).

What’s made Professor Higgs so influential, is that for nearly half a century scientists the world over have been seeking to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson, or “God-particle”, in order to make sense of the Big Bang and everything that has happened afterwards. Even Stephen Hawking once bet $100 that it would never be found, it was thought to be that elusive.

Ultimately, the existence of his theory led to the construction of the £6.19 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, one of the world’s most expensive scientific instruments, in order to either prove or disprove its existence. You can get a lot of Bunsen burners and test tubes for that money.

If they disproved its existence it would have meant ripping up the text books and starting from scratch on our theories of how the universe was formed.

Fortunately in 2012, directors at the LHC announced that they appeared to have found the Higgs Boson. In doing so they have guaranteed that his theory will be the dominant influencing force in particle physics for, probably, the next 50 years, as scientists seek to understand how it works.

To his credit, on the day of being awarded the Nobel Prize, Professor Higgs, who allegedly doesn’t own a computer or mobile phone, was not contactable and had to be informed of his win by a neighbour.

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