The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today awarded the Nobel Prize in physics to theorists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert to recognize their work developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field, which gives elementary particles mass.
Scientists from the United States, including several in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of New Mexico, played a significant role in advancing the theory and in discovering the particle that proves the existence of the Higgs field – the Higgs boson.
“We at UNM contributed to the development of the Pixel Detector at the heart of the ATLAS Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. Higgs particles left their signatures there,” said Professor Sally Seidel, UNM Department of Physics and Astronomy. “The Higgs discovery is the fruit of two decades of research effort. I am delighted to join with the rest of my 3,000-member collaboration in congratulating Professors Higgs and Englert."
In the 1960s, Higgs and Englert, along with other theorists, including Robert Brout, Tom Kibble and Americans Carl Hagen and Gerald Guralnik, published papers introducing key concepts in the theory of the Higgs field. In 2012, scientists on the international ATLAS and CMS experiments, performed at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN laboratory in Europe, confirmed this theory when they announced the discovery of the Higgs boson.
Nearly 2,000 physicists from U.S. institutions—including 89 U.S. universities and seven U.S. Department of Energy laboratories—participate in the ATLAS and CMS experiments, making up about 23 percent of the ATLAS collaboration and 33 percent of CMS at the time of the Higgs discovery. Brookhaven National Laboratory serves as the U.S. hub for the ATLAS experiment, and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory serves as the U.S. hub for the CMS experiment. U.S. scientists provided a significant portion of the intellectual leadership on Higgs analysis teams for both experiments.
“It is an honor that the Nobel Committee recognizes these theorists for their role in predicting what is one of the biggest discoveries in particle physics in the last few decades,” said Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer. “I congratulate the whole particle physics community for this achievement.”
The majority of U.S. scientists participating in LHC experiments work primarily from their home institutions, remotely accessing and analyzing data through high-capacity networks and grid computing. The United States plays an important role in this distributed computing system, providing 23 percent of the computing power for ATLAS and 40 percent for CMS. The United States also supplied or played a leading role in several main components of the two detectors and the LHC accelerator, amounting to a value of $164 million for the ATLAS detector, $167 million for the CMS detector and $200 million for the LHC. Support for the U.S. effort comes from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Science Foundation.
"It’s wonderful to see a 50-year-old theory confirmed after decades of hard work and remarkable ingenuity," said Brookhaven National Laboratory Director Doon Gibbs. "The U.S. has played a key role, contributing scientific and technical expertise along with essential computing and data analysis capabilities—all of which were necessary to bring the Higgs out of hiding. It’s a privilege to share in the success of an experiment that has changed the face of science."
The discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN was the culmination of decades of effort by physicists and engineers around the world, at the LHC but also at other accelerators such as the Tevatron accelerator, located at Fermilab, and the Large Electron Positron accelerator, which once inhabited the tunnel where the LHC resides. Work by scientists at the Tevatron and LEP developed search techniques and eliminated a significant fraction of the space in which the Higgs boson could hide.