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Peter Higgs, François Englert and European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN

Prince of Asturias Award for Technical & Scientific Research 2013

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

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Peter Higgs (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, 1929 - Edinburgh, UK, 2024) 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) and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013, together with Englert.

François Englert

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François Englert (Brussels, Belgium, 1932) graduated in Physical Sciences from the Free University of Brussels (ULB) in 1958 and earned his PhD there the following year. He subsequently worked as a research associate (1959-1960) and assistant professor (1960-1961) at Cornell University (USA). In 1961, he began teaching at the ULB, where he also co-headed with Robert Brout the Theoretical Physics Group from 1980 on and where he became Emeritus Professor in 1998. In August 1964, he and Robert Brout co-authored the article Broken Symmetry and the Mass of Gauge Vector Mesons in Physical Review Letters, in which they theorized on the symmetry breaking mechanism, which implied the presence of the fundamental particle or scalar boson. Among other academic distinctions, he holds honorary degrees from the University of Mons-Hainaut (Belgium) and the VUB. Englert has also been awarded the Adolphe Wetrems Prize in Physics and Mathematics by the Royal Academy of Belgium, the First Award of the Gravity Research Foundation in 1978 (with Brout and Gunzig) and the Francqui Prize in Exact Sciences (Belgium, 1982), in addition to the aforementioned awards he shares with others and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013, shared with Higgs.

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

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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.

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