Higgs boson, key to the universe, wins Nobel physics prize

Reuters

* British and Belgian scientists share 2013 award

* Higgs boson explains how basic matter gains mass

* 1964 prediction was confirmed at CERN last year

By Simon Johnson and Johan Ahlander

STOCKHOLM, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Britain's Peter Higgs andFrancois Englert of Belgium won the Nobel Prize for physics onTuesday for predicting the existence of the Higgs boson particlethat explains how elementary matter attained the mass to formstars and planets.

The insight has been hailed as one of the most important inthe understanding of the cosmos. Without the Higgs mechanism allparticles would travel at the speed of light and atoms would notexist.

Half a century after the scientists' original prediction,the new building block of nature was finally detected in 2012 atthe European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) centre'sgiant, underground particle-smasher near Geneva.

"I am overwhelmed to receive this award," said Higgs, who isknown to shun the limelight and did not appear in public onTuesday despite winning the world's top science prize.

"I hope this recognition of fundamental science will helpraise awareness of the value of blue-sky research," he said in astatement via the University of Edinburgh where he works.

The two scientists had been favourites to share the 8million Swedish crown ($1.25 million) prize after theirtheoretical work was vindicated by the CERN experiments.

To find the elusive particle, scientists at the Large HadronCollider (LHC) had to pore over data from the wreckage oftrillions of sub-atomic proton collisions.

The Higgs boson is the last piece of the Standard Model ofphysics that describes the fundamental make-up of theuniverse. Some commentators - though not scientists - havecalled it the "God particle", for its role in turning the BigBang into an ordered cosmos.

Higgs' and Englert's work shows how elementary particlesinside atoms gain mass by interacting with an invisible fieldpervading all of space - and the more they interact, the heavierthey become. The particle associated with the field is the Higgsboson.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the prize went toHiggs and Englert for work fundamental to describing how theuniverse is constructed.

"According to the Standard Model, everything, from flowersand people to stars and planets, consists of just a few buildingblocks: matter particles."

REMAINING QUESTIONS

Although finding the Higgs boson is a remarkable achievement- and one which Higgs once said he never expected to see in hislifetime - it is not the end of the story for physicists tryingto understand the structure of the universe.

Scientists are now grappling with other mysteries such asunderstanding the nature of dark matter, which accounts for morethan a quarter of the universe, and dark energy, which isbelieved to be the driver of cosmic expansion.

Asked how it felt to be a Nobel winner, Englert toldreporters by phone link to Stockholm: "You may imagine that thisis not very unpleasant, of course. I am very, very happy to havethe recognition of this extraordinary award."

CERN Director General Rolf Heuer said he was "thrilled" thatthe Nobel prize had gone to particle physics. He said thediscovery of the Higgs boson at CERN last year marked "theculmination of decades of intellectual effort by many peoplearound the world".

Some physicists were surprised that there was no recognitionfor the CERN teams that discovered the new particle, since therehad been speculation of a prize for CERN as an institution.

The will of Swedish dynamite millionaire Alfred Nobel limitsthe award to a maximum of three people - harking back to anearlier era when science was conducted by individuals or verysmall teams.

However, thousands worked on detecting the particle at CERNand a total of six scientists published relevant papers in 1964.

Englert, 80, and his colleague Robert Brout - who died in2011 - were first to publish; but the now 84-year-old Higgsfollowed just a couple of weeks later and was the first toexplicitly predict the existence of a new particle.

Similar proposals from American researchers Carl Hagen andGerald Guralnik and Britain's Tom Kibble appeared shortlyafterwards.

Kibble said it was no surprise that he and his colleagueswere not included in the Nobel honour since "our paper wasunquestionably the last of the three to be published in PhysicalReview Letters in 1964 - though we naturally regard ourtreatment as the most thorough and complete".

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