The highly-touted and most prestigious award in the scientific arena was captured today, Tuesday October 8, 2013, by Englishman Peter Higgs and fellow Belgian physicist Francois Englert. Although several scientists had a hand in theorizing the existence of the mass-giver Higgs particle, these two led the charge in conjuring the precise mathematical equations by which the particles in our Universe have mass.
Last year in July of 2012, the most ambitious particle accelerator ever realized finally glimpsed the minute emergence of the Higgs particle. The Large Hadron Collider was built for this very purpose, as physicists pushed the envelope to peer deeper into the nature of reality. Out of trillions of events (particle collisions) caught by the huge, complex detectors, scientists at CERN toiled day and night to sift through the data and find the Higgs particle. Although they all deserve credit for their contribution, Higgs and his counterparts from the 1960s made it all possible. It took 50 years for experimental sophistication to catch up with mathematical theory, and now man has yet another answer to a deceptively basic question: why do things have mass?
Upon receiving the award, Professor Higgs took the opportunity to remind the public of the continuous need to support science. The Higgs particle could not have been found if not for the billions of dollars poured into the accelerator. “I’m overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Swedish Academy. I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.”
The term blue-sky research refers, specifically, to loftier scientific endeavors where it isn’t immediately obvious how the results will be applied to everyday appliances like better cell phones and more efficient refrigerators. It recognizes the singular ability of the scientific discoveries to push the general envelope of technology, such as the unexpected invention of Styrofoam through advances in rocket science, or the necessity of Einstein’s Special and General Theories to the proper functioning – indeed; outright existence – of satellites and cell phones. There's no telling what future discoveries may result from the Higgs particle.
The formidable physicist Francois Englert actually published the mathematical results before Higgs – who followed independently just weeks later, and explicitly predicted the boson – rightfully shared in the $1.25 million Nobel Prize. Aided by his recently-deceased lab partner Robert Brout, they were joined by a litany of other publishers – but the Nobel Prize can only be awarded to three at most, and their papers were published last. The discovery of the Higgs particle by the LHC has, at the very least, bolstered the strength of the calls for a newer and more powerful machine.