In a surprise to no one, the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Peter Higgs and Robert Engelert for the development of the Higgs model and prediction of the Higgs boson. Physicists searched for it for nearly five decades before the LHC confirmed its existence in 2012. Congratulations to them both, (and to the all of the other Higgs pioneers who can bask in reflected glories)!

I have written extensively about the Higgs model in the past (see for example, Still the Higgs, FAQs of Higgs, FAQ of Higgs II, We Have The Higgs!, Hunting the Higgs) and so I won't repeat it all here. 

Essentially, in the 1950s and 1960s theorists were studying the fundamental forces of nature and discovered that they could be predicted from the symmetry properties of quantum mechanical fields (called gauge symmetry). It works well for electric and magnetic forces, but there is a problem with the weak nuclear force. Gauge forces operate at all distances and are carried by massless particles. However the weak nuclear force only seems to operate on subatomic scales and the three particles were (at the time) the heaviest fundamental particles to be measured.

The solution was spontaneous symmetry breaking. The particles start out massless and explain the force, but then as the Universe cools down it fills up with another field that impedes the motion of particles, making them appear to have an effective mass. Since the field is uniform everywhere in the Universe, there is no way of measuring it because there is nothing to compare it to. (It should be noted by the way that there were at least three different published articles in 1964 suggesting this method, published by Robert Brout & Francois Englert, by Peter Higgs, and by Gerald Guralnik, C. Richard Hagen, & Tom Kibble)

However Higgs (the theorist, not the particle) surmised that in high energy reactions, a small region of this background field could either be increased or decreased for a very tiny fraction of second. This region behaves like a particle, which is now called the Higgs Boson. It quickly decays back to the norm, by converting some of the field into other particles which can be detected.

For nearly fifty years particle physicists hunted for the Higgs particle. It worked so well in theory, that it had to be real. There were many variations on its properties and nature, but very few people doubted that it existed. It was just never seen in the experiments.

However that changed in June 2012 when the Large Hadron Collider announced that they had seen a particle with a mass of 125GeV that has the same properties and decays to right types of particles to be the Higgs boson. There is still work to be done in determining which precise theory of the Higgs is correct, but now there is no doubt that the Higgs mechanism is real and the Higgs boson does exist.

And that is why the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to the Higgs mechanism, and two of its many founders. It is a great day for theoretical physics!