Peter Higgs - 29 May 1929 – 8 April 2024

Peter Higgs: science mourns giant of particle physics

From Nature

The British physicist, who has died aged 94, predicted the existence of the Higgs boson in the 1960s.

By Davide Castelvecchi

Professor Peter Higgs poses for a portrait at an Edinburgh University press conference in 2012.

Colleagues remember Peter Higgs as an inspirational scientist, who remained humble despite his fame. Credit: Graham Clark/Alamy

Few scientists have enjoyed as much fame in recent years as British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, the namesake of the boson that was discovered in 2012, who died on 8 April, aged 94.

It was 60 years ago when Higgs first suggested how an elementary particle of unusual properties could pervade the universe in the form of an invisible field, giving other elementary particles their masses. Several other physicists independently thought of this mechanism around the same time, including François Englert, now at the Free University of Brussels. The particle was a crucial element of the theoretical edifice that physicists were building in those years,which later became known as the standard model of particles and fields.

Two separate experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland — ATLAS and the CMS — confirmed Higgs’ predictions when they announced the discovery of the Higgs boson half a century later. It was the last missing component of the standard model, and Higgs and Englert shared a Nobel Prize in 2013 for predicting its existence. Physicists at the LHC continue to learn about the properties of the Higgs boson, but some researchers say that only a dedicated collider that can produce the particle in copious amounts — dubbed a ‘Higgs factory’ — will enable them to gain a profound understanding of its role.

Inspiring figure

“Besides his outstanding contributions to particle physics, Peter was a very special person, an immensely inspiring figure for physicists around the world, a man of rare modesty, a great teacher and someone who explained physics in a very simple yet profound way,” said Fabiola Gianotti, director-general of CERN in an obituary posted on the organization’s website; Gianotti who announced the Higgs boson’s discovery to the world at CERN. “I am very saddened, and I will miss him sorely.”

Many physicists took to X, formerly Twitter, to pay tribute to Higgs and share their favourite memories of him. “RIP to Peter Higgs. The search for the Higgs boson was my primary focus for the first part of my career. He was a very humble man that contributed something immensely deep to our understanding of the universe,” posted Kyle Cranmer, physicist at the University of Wisconsin Madison and previously a senior member of the Higgs search team at the CMS.

“I was fortunate to meet Peter Higgs in 2013 (days after the Nobel prize announcement). He was modest as he told a group of PhD students the history of the boson theory. Afterwards, I was very lucky to get my copy of the New York Times with the discovery signed by him,” said Clara Nellist, a physicist at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the ATLAS particle-discovery collaboration.

“A career highlight was helping Peter into a cab after the Collider exhibition launch @sciencemuseum in 2013 with a carrier bag of special-edition beer marking his recent Nobel,” posted Harry Cliff, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, UK.

“He disliked the limelight but was comfortable with friends and colleagues,” Frank Close, a physicist at the University of Oxford, UK, and author of the book Elusive: How Peter Higgs Solved the Mystery of Mass (2022), said in a statement to the UK Science Media Centre. “His boson took 48 years to appear, and when the Nobel was announced, he had disappeared to his favourite sea food bar in Leith.”

An exciting journey

Higgs’ work continues to be of fundamental importance, said physicist Sinead Farrington at the University of Edinburgh. “We’re still on an exciting journey to figure out whether some further predictions are true, namely whether the Higgs boson interacts with itself in the predicted way, and whether it might decay to other beyond the Standard Model particles,” she told the Science Media Centre.

For physicist and science writer Matt Strassler, Higgs’ death represents ‘the end of an era’. “Higgs was a fortunate scientist: he lived to see his insight at age 30 turn up in experiments 50 years later,” he posted on X. “His role and influence in our understanding of the #universe will be remembered for millennia.”



A little nod to Peter Higgs, to mark his passing. I interviewed him at Cheltenham Science Festival a few years ago, and asked him to sign this silly note, which he was delighted to do! There are only two of these in existence (a certain other Irish comic has the other). RIP.

Peter Higgs - I wouldn't be productive enough for today's academic system

From the Guardian Newspaper

Physicist doubts work like Higgs boson identification achievable now as academics are expected to 'keep churning out papers'

Peter Higgs: I wouldn't be productive enough for today's academic system. Photographer Peter Levene for the Guardian.

By Decca Aitkenhead

The Guardian Fri 6 Dec 2013 17.37 GMT

Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today's academic system because he would not be considered "productive" enough.

The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or even made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work, which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass, was published in 1964.

He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today's academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: "It's difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964."

Speaking to the Guardian en route to Stockholm to receive the 2013 Nobel prize for science, Higgs, 84, said he would almost certainly have been sacked had he not been nominated for the Nobel in 1980.

Edinburgh University's authorities then took the view, he later learned, that he "might get a Nobel prize – and if he doesn't we can always get rid of him".

Higgs said he became "an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises". A message would go around the department saying: "Please give a list of your recent publications." Higgs said: "I would send back a statement: 'None.' "

By the time he retired in 1996, he was uncomfortable with the new academic culture. "After I retired it was quite a long time before I went back to my department. I thought I was well out of it. It wasn't my way of doing things any more. Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough."

Higgs revealed that his career had also been jeopardised by his disagreements in the 1960s and 70s with the then principal, Michael Swann, who went on to chair the BBC. Higgs objected to Swann's handling of student protests and to the university's shareholdings in South African companies during the apartheid regime. "[Swann] didn't understand the issues, and denounced the student leaders."

He regrets that the particle he identified in 1964 became known as the "God particle".

He said: "Some people get confused between the science and the theology. They claim that what happened at Cern proves the existence of God."

An atheist since the age of 10, he fears the nickname "reinforces confused thinking in the heads of people who are already thinking in a confused way. If they believe that story about creation in seven days, are they being intelligent?"

He also revealed that he turned down a knighthood in 1999. "I'm rather cynical about the way the honours system is used, frankly. A whole lot of the honours system is used for political purposes by the government in power."

He has not yet decided which way he will vote in the referendum on Scottish independence. "My attitude would depend a little bit on how much progress the lunatic right of the Conservative party makes in trying to get us out of Europe. If the UK were threatening to withdraw from Europe, I would certainly want Scotland to be out of that."

He has never been tempted to buy a television, but was persuaded to watch The Big Bang Theory last year, and said he wasn't impressed.

Randomness in computation wins computer-science ‘Nobel’

Randomness in computation wins computer-science ‘Nobel’

Published in Nature

Computer scientist Avi Wigderson is known for clarifying the role of randomness in algorithms, and for studying their complexity.

By Davide Castelvecchi

Avi Wigderson pictured outdoors at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Avi Wigderson received the Turing Award for his foundational contributions to the theory of computation.Credit: Dan Komoda

A leader in the field of computational theory is the latest winner of the A. M. Turing Award, sometimes described as the ‘Nobel Prize’ of computer science.

Avi Wigderson at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey, is known for work straddling several disciplines, and had already won a share of the Abel Prize, a top mathematics award, three years ago.

He receives the Turing Award “for foundational contributions to the theory of computation, including reshaping our understanding of the role of randomness in computation, and for his decades of intellectual leadership in theoretical computer science”, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in New York City announced on 10 April.

“I was extremely happy, and I didn’t expect this at all,” Wigderson tells Nature. “I’m getting so much love and appreciation from my community that I don’t need prizes.”

‘A towering intellectual force’

Wigderson was born in Haifa, Israel, in 1956. He studied at Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and later at Princeton University; he has been at the IAS since 1999. He is known for his work on computational complexity — which studies how certain problems are inherently slow to solve, even in principle — and on randomness in computation. Many practical algorithms make random choices to achieve their objectives more efficiently; in a series of groundbreaking studies in the 1990s, Wigderson and his collaborators showed that conventional, deterministic algorithms can, in principle, be roughly as efficient as ‘randomized’ ones1. The results helped to confirm that random algorithms can be as accurate as deterministic ones are.

“Wigderson is a towering intellectual force in theoretical computer science,” said ACM president Yannis Ioannidis in a statement. In addition to Wigderson’s academic achievements, the ACS cited his “friendliness, enthusiasm, and generosity”, which have led him to be a mentor to or collaborate with hundreds of researchers worldwide. Wigderson admits that he is a “big proselytizer” of the intellectual pleasures of his discipline — he wrote a popular book about it and made it freely available on his website. “I think this field is great, and I am happy to explain it to anybody.”

The Turing Award is named after the celebrated British mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing (1912–54), who in the 1930s laid the conceptual foundations of modern computing. “I feel completely at home with mathematics,” says Wigderson, adding that as an intellectual endeavour, theoretical computer science is indistinguishable from maths. “We prove theorems, like mathematicians.”


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Impagliazzo, R. & Wigderson, A. in Proc. 29th ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing 220–229 (ACM, 1997).