Regarding the passing of Peter Higgs

Regarding the passing of Peter Higgs

Peter Higgs was an eminent theoretical physicist whose work revolutionized our understanding of the universe. His contributions, particularly regarding the Higgs boson, have left an indelible mark on the history of science.

He was born on May 29, 1929, in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England. Higgs' early work focused on particle physics and quantum field theory.

In 1964, Robert Brout and François Englert –and almost simultaneously Peter Higgs– proposed the existence of a scalar field present throughout the universe to explain the mass of elementary particles. This later became known as the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism.

Other similar works from that time were carried out by Gerald Guralnik, Carl Hagen, and Tom Kibble. However, it was only in Higgs' work that the crucial observation was made that this mechanism implies the existence of a new particle, a heavy boson with properties never before seen in an elementary particle. The prediction of this particle was key for, 48 years later, the theoretical model to be experimentally verified.

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The Higgs field permeates the entire universe and imparts mass to elementary particles through its interactions with them. Thus, the Higgs boson is an excitation of the Higgs field. This particle can currently be produced and detected in accelerators such as the LHC in Geneva.

The proposal of the Higgs field provided a verifiable hypothesis about the origin of mass in elementary particles. It is different from other fundamental fields, such as the electromagnetic field, as it is a scalar field, meaning it has magnitude but no direction. Additionally, the Higgs field drastically changed our understanding of the vacuum, which is not "nothing." The vacuum filled with the Higgs field explains the existence of mass for elementary particles. However, the reason why each particle has a different mass remains a mystery.

Indeed, the Higgs mechanism plays a key role in the unified description of weak interactions and electromagnetic force at high energies. It explains why the W and Z bosons (weak force) are heavy; while the photon (electromagnetic force) has zero mass.

For years, experiments were conducted in search of experimental evidence of the Higgs boson in high-energy particle colliders, such as LEP, Tevatron at Fermilab, and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. On July 4, 2012, scientists from the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC collider announced the detection of an interesting signal, possibly from the Higgs boson with a mass of 125–126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV).

CERN

In 2013, Higgs and François Englert (he had also proposed the same mechanism, along with Robert Brout, who had passed away) shared the Nobel Prize in Physics, following the experimental confirmation of their theoretical model at the LHC through the discovery of the Higgs boson. That same year, CERN, along with Peter Higgs and François Englert, received the Príncipe de Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research "for the theoretical prediction and experimental detection of the Higgs boson."

Today, sadly, we received the news of Peter Higgs' passing at the age of 94. His legacy will endure in the history of science, and his contribution to the understanding of the universe will continue to inspire generations of scientists.

Content created by: Ángel Uranga/Alberto Casas/Laura Marcos.

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