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Peter Ware Higgs

(b. 1929)

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(1929–) British theoretical physicist

Higgs was born at Bristol and educated at Kings College, London, where he completed his PhD in 1955. He worked initially at the University of London but moved to Edinburgh University in 1960 and was elected professor of theoretical physics there in 1980.

Along with many other physicists in the 1960s, Higgs worked on proposals to unify the weak and the electromagnetic forces into a single electroweak theory. At very high temperatures the two forces and their carriers, photons for the electromagnetic force and the W and Z bosons for the weak force, would be indistinguishable. But, at lower temperatures, the symmetry breaks down and massless photons are obviously distinct from the massive W and Z bosons. In 1964, Higgs worked out a mechanism for the breakdown in symmetry, since known as the Higgs field, which would endow the bosons with mass. At the same time, he noted, the mechanism would also produce another massive particle, the Higgs boson.

The existence of this particle, it has been claimed, will be the ultimate test of the correctness of the electroweak theory, and of the standard model of particle physics itself. Yet no sign of the particle has so far been detected. The failure is normally explained away by pointing out that the Higgs boson probably has a mass in excess of 1 TeV (109 electron volts), well beyond the capacity of any current accelerator. It will therefore be the first task of the Superconducting Proton Synchotron, with an expected capacity of 20 TeV, if ever completed, to search for the Higgs boson.

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