Englert, Higgs Win Physics Nobel for Particle Mass



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Francois
Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of Britain won the 2013 Nobel Prize in
physics on Tuesday for their theoretical discoveries on how subatomic particles
acquire mass.

Their
theories are key to explaining the building blocks of matter and the origins of
the universe. They were

confirmed last year by the discovery of the so-called
Higgs particle, also known as the Higgs boson, at CERN, the Geneva-based
European Organization for Nuclear Research, the Royal Swedish Academy of
Sciences said.

The
announcement, which was widely expected, was delayed by one hour, which is
highly unusual. The academy gave no immediate reason, other than saying on
Twitter that it was “still in session” at the original announcement
time. The academy decides the winners in a majority vote on the day of the
announcement.
“I
am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy,”
Higgs said in a statement released by the University of Edinburgh. “I hope
this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value
of blue-sky research.”
Staffan
Normark, the permanent secretary of the academy, said the academy had tried to
reach Higgs on Tuesday but “all the numbers we tried he did not
answer.” He wouldn’t say if that’s why the announcement was delayed.
By
just awarding the men behind the theoretical discovery of the particle, the
prize committee avoided the tricky issue of picking someone at the CERN
laboratory in Geneva to share the award. Thousands of scientists were involved
in the experiments that confirmed the particle’s existence in experiments last
year.
The
Nobel award can only be split by three people.
Englert
and Higgs theorized about the existence of the particle in the 1960s to provide
an answer to a riddle: why matter has mass. The tiny particle, they believed,
acts like molasses on snow — causing other basic building blocks of nature to
stick together, slow down and form atoms.
But
decades would pass before scientists at CERN were able to confirm its existence
in July 2012. To find it, they had to build a $10 billion collider in a 17-mile
(27-kilometer) tunnel beneath the Swiss-French border.
“I’m
thrilled that this year’s Nobel Prize has gone to particle physics,” said
CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. He said the discovery of the particle at CERN
last year “marks the culmination of decades of intellectual effort by many
people around the world.”
Finding
the particle — often referred to as the “God particle” — required
teams of thousands of scientists and mountains of data from trillions of
colliding protons in the world’s biggest atom smasher — CERN’s Large Hadron
Collider. The device produces energies simulating those 1 trillionth to 2
trillionths of a second after the Big Bang.
Only
about one collision per trillion will produce one of the Higgs bosons in the
collider, and it took CERN some time after the discovery of a new
“Higgs-like” boson to decide that the particle was, in fact, very
much like the Higgs boson expected in the original formulation, rather than a
kind of variant.
The
physics prize was the second of this year’s Nobel awards to be announced. On
Monday, the Nobel Prize in medicine was given to American scientists James
Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Sudhof for discoveries about how key
substances are moved around within cells.
The
prizes, established by Swedish industrialist and Alfred Nobel, will be handed
out on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of his death in 1896. Each prize is worth 8
million Swedish kronor ($1.2 million).
Read more: abcnews
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