October 9, 2013

Higgs Boson Finding Traced to Cornell

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By EMMA COURT

Two physicists’ Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the Higgs boson particle, which has been nicknamed the “key to the universe,” traces back to Cornell University.

This Tuesday, Prof. Emeritus Peter W. Higgs, theoretical physics, University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and Prof. Emeritus François Englert, theoretical physics, Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of the Higgs boson.

The Higgs boson particle, which Higgs and Englert discovered in March, is the source of a field without which “all elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight,” according to The New York Times. Without the particle, there would be neither atoms nor life.

Englert, one of the particle’s discoverers, began his career as a post-doc researcher and a professor at Cornell in the 1950s and 60s, according to a University press release. During his time at Cornell, Englert worked under former Prof. Robert Brout, physics, who was also a involved in the discovery of the Higgs boson particle but was not eligible to win the Nobel Prize because he died in 2011.

Englert wrote about the time he first met Brout in 1959 in the August 2011 edition of Physics Today magazine.

“Our first meeting was unexpectedly warm. He picked me up at the airport and took me for a drink, which lasted nearly the whole night. When we parted, we knew that we would become friends,” Englert wrote.

Englert returned to Belgium two years later, at which point he said he and Brout’s “collaboration in statistical physics and our friendship had indeed become deeply rooted.” Brout left Cornell for Belgium as well, where he continued to partner with Englert in theoretical physics research.

“Our present understanding of the world in physical terms bears the mark of Robert Brout’s contribution to physics,” Englert said in his piece in Physics Today.

Prof. Peter Wittich, physics, who was involved in the Higgs boson’s discovery, said in a press release that the Nobel Prize confirms the monumental scale of the scientists’ work.

“When we announced the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, we knew it was a really important result –– and the Nobel Prize committee has confirmed that feeling,” Wittich said. “Finding the Higgs boson explains how elementary particles become massive, thereby solving a long-standing mystery, and really, that is what science is all about. … It’s been an exciting time for particle physics.”