A Nobel prize for particle physics

Avatar

I don't know about you, but for me that hour between 11.45am and 12.45pm on Tuesday seemed to take a very long time to pass. What was going on in that room in Stockholm we'll never know, but whatever it was, it produced a fantastic result for particle physics. There could be no more deserving laureates than François Englert and Peter Higgs, embodying as they do all the hallmarks of great scientists: brilliance, of course, but also humility and a sense of teamwork.

I remember when they met each other at CERN for the first time on 4 July last year: the pleasure in that meeting was evident, and when Peter Higgs was asked for comment by the dozens of journalists who came to CERN that day, he politely declined, saying that this was a day for the experiments. Well, Peter, Tuesday was your day, and everyone at CERN shares the pride and joy that you and François must have felt, wherever you were! And like I’m sure you did, we all took time out to remember our departed colleague, Robert Brout, who would surely have shared in this prize had he still been with us.

Of course, the theory behind the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism is just a part of the story. Brilliant though it is, theory needs experiment, as the Nobel committee so eloquently said in acknowledging ATLAS, CMS, CERN and the LHC in the citation. Without the thousands of people working over decades to conceive, design and build ever more sophisticated tools to investigate the fundamental building blocks of nature, the committee could not have made such an award. Theory without experimental confirmation remains just theory, and an experiment without a theory to put to the test is no more than a collection of electronic components looking for a purpose. So wherever you are in the global particle physics community, you have contributed to this prize, and you too can feel a sense of pride and joy in the achievement.