The Higgs boson, the “God particle,” which was discovered last year, garnered two physicists the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday, but it didn’t go to the scientists who discovered it.
Nearly 50 years ago, Francois Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of the United Kingdom had the foresight to predict that the particle existed.
Their theories behind the Higgs boson explained what gives matter mass and helped complete scientists’ understanding of the nature of all matter.
“The awarded theory is a central part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a post on Twitter.
As is tradition, the academy phoned the scientists during the announcement to inform them of their win. They were unable to reach Higgs, for whom the particle is named.
The conversation with Englert was short and sweet. “I feel very well, of course,” he said, when he heard the news. “Now, I’m very happy.”
Higgs boson’s discoverers
Scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in the meantime have confirmed their discovery and solidified its place in science.
On March 14, what would have been Albert Einstein’s birthday, they announced that, over time, the particle looked even more like the Higgs boson they had been chasing for almost 50 years.
It was a solid scientific advancement, and it was a first.
But the Royal Academy often steers away from firsts when it chooses its Nobel recipients and instead opts for a scientific advancement that is more mature, has been confirmed by additional research and has gone down as a vital cog in the larger clockwork of scientific theory.
It seems that in choosing the theorists over the discoverers, they have followed that principle.
The Nobel Prize in physics makes a nice lifetime achievement award for Englert and Higgs, who are both in their 80s. Both are professors emeritus: Englert at the Free University of Brussels; Higgs at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Though deserving, they are lucky, as the Royal Academy had a long list of brilliant scientists and achievements to choose from.
And the field of physics covers a virtually infinite scale, from beyond the smallest sub-atomic particles to the largest, most distant stars and quasars in the vast reaches of the universe.
Last year’s winners
Last year’s prize to Haroche and Wineland rewarded work in the field of quantum optics. The two approached the same principles from opposite directions.
The American used light particles to measure the properties of matter, while his French colleague focused on tracking light particles by using atoms.
Both Nobel laureates found ways to isolate the subatomic particles and keep their properties intact at the same time.
Prior to the breakthrough, such particles quickly interacted with matter, which changed their qualities and rendered them unobservable. That left scientist stuck doing a lot of guesswork.
Future and past Nobels
Since 1901, the committee has handed out the Nobel Prize in physics 106 times. The youngest recipient was Lawrence Bragg, who won in 1915 at the age of 25. Bragg is not only the youngest physics laureate; he is also the youngest laureate in any Nobel Prize area.
The oldest physics laureate was Raymond Davis Jr., who was 88 years old when he was awarded the prize in 2002.
John Bardeen was the only physicist to receive the prize twice, for work in semiconductors and superconductivity.
Two Americans and a German shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine this year.
Americans James E. Rothman and Randy W. Schekman and German Thomas C. Sudhof were awarded the prize Monday for discoveries of how the body’s cells decide when and where to deliver the molecules they produce.
Disruptions of this delivery system contribute to diabetes, neurological diseases and immunological disorders.
In the coming days, the prize committee also will announce prizes in chemistry, literature, peace and economics.
Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel created the prizes in 1895 to honor work in physics, chemistry, literature and peace. The first economics prize was awarded in 1969.
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