Episode from the podcastDiscovery

Peter Higgs

Released Monday, 14th April 2014
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An extended interview with the Nobel prize laureate. Peter Higgs tells Jim Al-Khalili that he failed to realise the full significance of the Higgs boson and to link it to the much celebrated Standard Model of Physics. He puts the oversight down to a string of missed opportunities, including one night at a physics summer camp when he chose to go to bed early.

Working alone in Edinburgh in the 1960s, Peter Higgs says he was considered "a bit of a crank... No-one wanted to work with me". In 1964, he predicted the possible existence of a new kind of boson but, at the time, there was little interest.

Three years later, the Higgs mechanism was shown to be central to the new Standard Model of Physics, which brings together three of the four fundamental forces of nature and has dominated physics ever since. Higgs met one of the key architects of the Standard Model several times, but they failed to realise they were working on the same thing.

The 1970s were an exciting time for particle physics but Higgs says he lacked technical competency. He adds that work pressure contributed to the breakdown of his marriage. Four decades and several billion pounds on, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN confirmed that the Higgs boson had indeed been found and Peter Higgs shot to fame.

This ephemeral speck of elusive energy is now so well-known it's featured in car adverts and countless jokes. There's even song by Nick Cave called the Higgs Boson Blues. But Higgs has always called it the 'scalar boson' and remains embarrassed that it is named after only him. He remains surprised that another British physicist, Tom Kibble from Imperial College, London didn't share the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics along with him and Belgian physicist, Francois Englert.

These days, he's constantly stopped in the street and asked for autographs and photographs which, he says, is "nice but a bit of a nuisance".

Producer: Anna Buckley

Image Credit: BBC

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