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The beautiful, blue-sky theory of Higgs and the Nobel Prize

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Peter Higgs, 84, shares the 8m Swedish kronor (£775,000) Nobel prize in physics – and no small measure of kudos – with the Belgian theorist, François Englert. Higgs had been favourite to win the award since researchers at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern near Geneva declared last July that they had discovered the particle he predicted, the elusive Higgs boson.

. . .Written in pencil on a pad of paper, Higgs's theory described an invisible field that is all around us – and even within us. The field gives mass to the basic constituents of atoms. . . .

Immediately after the big bang, the first particles that formed were entirely massless and zipped around the fledgling universe at the speed of light. But a trillionth of a second later, the field switched on and gave mass to scores of particles, including the quarks and electrons that make up atoms. Particles of light – photons – do not feel the field and remain massless.

Without the Higgs field, or something like it, the universe would look very different today. There would be no stars, planets, or life as we know it.

Higgs, who has worked for years at the University of Edinburgh, was one of a number of physicists who developed the theory, and they stood, as Newton once said about himself, "on the shoulders of giants".

Lovely to see. Still invisible, the hand which gently switched on the field?

Picture Acknowledgement: Nebula Messier 27 by NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team, CR O'Dell, Vanderbilt University.

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