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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Princess of Asturias Awards


Peter Higgs, François Englert and the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research

Physicists Peter Higgs (UK) and François Englert (Belgium), together with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN, for its acronym in French), were bestowed with the 2013 Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, as made public on 29 th May in Oviedo by the jury responsible for conferring said Award.

Peter Higgs, François Englert and CERN, 2013 Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research. ©FPA

The jury for this Award –convened by the Prince of Asturias Foundation– was chaired by Pedro Miguel Echenique Landiríbar and was composed of Juan Luis Arsuaga Ferreras, Juan Ignacio Cirac Sasturáin, Luis Fernández-Vega Sanz, Cristina Garmendia Mendizábal, María del Rosario Heras Celemín, Bernardo Hernández González, Emilio Lora-Tamayo D’Ocón, José Antonio Martínez-Álvarez, Amador Menéndez Velázquez, María Teresa Miras Portugal, Ginés Morata Pérez, Enrique Moreno González, César Nombela Cano, Eduardo Punset Casals, Marta Sanz-Solé, Manuel Toharia Cortés and Vicente Gotor Santamaría (acting secretary).

In 1964, the physicists Peter Higgs and François Englert –the latter together with the late Robert Brout– concurrently and independently formulated the existence of the subatomic particle in the origin of the mass of other particles, which has become known as the “Higgs boson”, “scalar boson” or “God particle”.The publication of Englert and Brout’s work, on the one hand, and that of Higgs, on the other, describing the symmetry breaking mechanism in the context of quantum field theory, constituted a milestone and provided the key to complete the Standard Model of particle physics, i.e. the periodic table of the subatomic world and its rules, which explain how the universe works. Their work was subsequently followed by papers by other researchers. Nearly 50 years later, on 4th July 2012, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) confirmed the existence of this particle via experimentation in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).This finding, which has been called the greatest discovery in the history of the understanding of Nature, enables a glimpse at what happened immediately after the Big Bang.

Peter Higgs (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, 1929) studied physics at King’s College, University of London, where he earned his PhD in 1954. That same year, he moved to the University of Edinburgh, where he began his teaching and research work and where he was to spend his entire career, except for a hiatus of four years in London. He was promoted to the Chair of Theoretical Physics in 1980 and became Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh in 1996. Broken Symmetries, Massless Particles and Gauge Fields, published in September 1964 in Physics Letters, and Broken Symmetries and the Masses of Gauge Bosons, published a month later in Physical Review Letters, are the articles in which Higgs presented his theory regarding the existence of the scalar boson. Fellow of both the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of London, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts and Honorary Member of the Saltire Society, Peter Higgs has been awarded honorary degrees by the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Swansea, Cambridge, Heriot-Watt and King’s College London and by University College London. Higgs has received numerous awards for his contributions to Physics, including the High Energy and Particle Physics Prize, which in 1997 the European Physical Society conferred on him, together with Brout and Englert; the Wolf Prize in Physics, shared with Brout and Englert (Israel, 2004); the Sakurai Prize from the American Physical Society, shared with Brout, Englert, Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble (2010); the Nonino Prize (Italy, 2013); and, jointly with CERN, the Edinburgh Medal at the Scottish capital’s International Science Festival (2013).

François Englert (Bélgica, 6 de noviembre de 1932) se licenció en Ciencias Físicas en la Universidad Libre de Bruselas en 1958 y se doctoró al año siguiente. Investigador asociado (1959-1960) y profesor asistente (1960-1961) en la Universidad de Cornell (EE.UU.), en 1961 empezó a enseñar en la Universidad Libre de Bruselas, donde también dirigió con Robert Brout el Grupo de Física Teórica desde 1980 y donde, desde 1998, es catedrático emérito. En agosto de 1964 publicó con Robert Brout el artículo “Broken symmetry and the mass of gauge vector mesons”, en el que teorizaban el mecanismo de ruptura de simetría que implicaba la presencia de la partícula fundamental o bosón escalar. Doctor honoris causa por las universidades de Mons-Hainaut (Bélgica) y la VUB, entre otros reconocimientos académicos, Englert ha recibido, además de los galardones compartidos ya mencionados, el Premio Wetrems de Ciencias Físicas y Matemáticas de la Real Academia de Bélgica, el First Award of the Gravity Research Foundation en 1978 (con Brout y Gunzig) y el Premio Francqui de Ciencias Exactas (Bélgica, 1982).

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which retains the French acronym for the European Center for Nuclear Research that preceded it, is an international, intergovernmental organization based in Geneva (Switzerland) made up of twenty member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Other countries also participate in its work, while high-level institutions such as the European Commission and UNESCO have observer status. Opened in 1954, it currently employs about 2,500 people, including scientists and laboratory technicians. In addition, about 8,000 scientists of 85 nationalities from 580 universities are involved in its projects.

On 30th March 2010, scientists at CERN achieved what was then considered the greatest scientific experiment in the world:the collision, for the first time, of pre-accelerated proton beams to obtain an energy of 7 teraelectronvolts (TeV) inside the LHC, recreating conditions similar to those existing at the moment of the Big Bang. The creation of the first antimatter particle in the LHC provided confirmation of the physical theories which the facility is currently working with, such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the understanding of the formation of the Universe. In 2012, after half a century of conjectures, these findings enabled the existence of what is known as the Higgs boson or “God particle” to finally be demonstrated, as well as providing the means to complete the Standard Model of particle physics, i.e. the periodic table of the subatomic world and its rules, which explain how the universe works.

CERN had its first success in 1984 when two of its scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the W and Z bosons, weak interaction particles known as intermediate bosons. In 1990, it also saw the birth of the World Wide Web (www) protocol, invented by the British physicist Tim Berners-Lee, 2002 Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, so that the scientists there could access data regardless of their geographic location.The production of isotopes for improving medical imaging and cancer therapies is another of the activities carried out at CERN, as is the development of methods for nuclear waste disposal, energy savings employing vacuum technology and energy storage and transport by means of superconductivity.

According to the Statutes of the Foundation, the Prince of Asturias Awards aim “to reward scientific, technical, cultural, social and humanitarian work carried out at an international level by individuals, institutions or groups of individuals or institutions”. As part of this spirit, the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research shall be conferred on those “whose research findings and/or inventions represent an outstanding contribution to the progress and welfare of Mankind in the fields of Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics, Chemistry, Life Sciences, Medical Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences and Technological Sciences, including those disciplines corresponding to each of these fields and their related techniques”.

This year a total of 43 candidatures from Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Pakistan, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States and Spain ran for the award.

This was the fourth of eight Prince of Asturias Awards to be bestowed this year for the thirty-third time. The Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts went to Austrian filmmaker and playwright Michael Haneke, the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences was given to Dutch sociologist Saskia Sassen and the Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities went to US photographer Annie Leibovitz. The rest of awards will be announced in the coming weeks in the following order: Letters, International Cooperation and Sports, with the Concord award being announced in September.

Each Prince of Asturias Award, which date back to 1981, comprises a diploma, a Joan Miró sculpture representing and symbolizing the Awards, an insignia bearing the Foundation’s coat of arms, and a cash prize of 50,000 Euros. The awards will be presented in the autumn in Oviedo at a grand ceremony chaired by H.R.H. the Prince of Asturias.

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