Higgs, Englert, and the Nobel Prize

Sean Carroll has a post congratulating Englert and Higgs on their Nobel Prize award. I’m hardly a theoretical physicist, so I admit I don’t fully understand the nature of the Higgs field at a deep level. But I’m so glad to see these two were awarded the prize.

Here’s a very concise explanation of the problem that Higgs and Englert were trying to solve, quoting from Carroll’s post:

There they were, back in 1964 — Englert and Higgs, as well as Anderson, Brout, Guralnik, Hagen, and Kibble — confronted with a relatively abstract-sounding problem: how can you make a model for the nuclear forces that is based on local symmetry, like electromagnetism and gravity, but nevertheless only stretches over short ranges, like we actually observe?

Sean Carroll

What followed was the proposal of the Higgs field, which acts to temper the ranges of these forces. But it wasn’t until the construction of the Large Hadron Collider 48 years later at a cost of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands (millions?) of man hours that Englert, Higgs, et al, were proven right.

It took all of that work, all of that time, all of that incredibly difficult study, and all of that tedious sifting through trillions of collisions to confirm Englert, Higgs, et al’s prediction, manifested as a tiny bump in two plots:


That’s it. It doesn’t imply a cure for cancer, or a solution to world hunger. It doesn’t predict any new technologies such as tractor beams or warp drives. It’s not even the discovery of something new or unexpected.

But it means that we confirmed our understanding of the universe at an astonishingly deep level. And today we celebrate the human beings to were able to think differently and set us on a path toward this bit of understanding.

Well done humanity, well done.