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His first paper was rejected by a journal, while other scientists accused him and his colleagues of failing to grasp the basic principles of physics.
Despite the sleights Prof Higgs, at the time an 34-year-old physicist at Edinburgh University, was convinced his idea was right although he never envisaged being able to prove it.
Yesterday, 48 years on, his radical concept was finally proved correct by an international team of physicists at the Cern laboratory using a £6 billion piece of equipment designed to uncover the secrets of the Universe.
Announcing the latest results from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, scientists from confirmed they had discovered a new particle bearing all the hallmarks of a Higgs Boson.
The Higgs Boson helps to explain how fundamental particles gain their mass - a property which allows them to bind together and form stars and planets rather than whizzing around the universe at the speed of light.
Prof Higgs, 83, who travelled to Switerland to witness the landmark announcement first-hand, was visibly moved as the presentation was rounded off to tumultuous applause from a wildly excited audience, some of whom had waited overnight to secure their seats.
Choking back tears, he said: "I would like to add my congratulations to everyone involved in this achievement. It's really an incredible thing that it's happened in my lifetime."
His response was characteristically modest. Professor Higgs has repeatedly resisted requests for interviews and comments, insisting the limelight should be taken by the scientists who have proved that his theory is correct.
He has long been uncomfortable even having his name attached to the particle, which is the key missing cornerstone of the Standard Model of physics.
The son of a BBC sound engineer from Newcastle, he was raised in Bristol and excelled at Cotham Grammar School.
During a school assembly he saw the name of a former pupil, the great quantum physicist P.A.M. Dirac, on an honours board and decided to read about his work. He was quickly hooked, reading as much as he could find about the subject to satisfy his curiosity.
He went on to King's College, London, where he graduated with a first class honours in 1950. He was denied a lectureship at the university, however, so became a researcher at Edinburgh University.
His "eureka" moment reportedly came in a flash of inspiration while on a walking trip to the Cairngorms. When one of his initial papers was rejected, he insisted the journal had clearly not understood him.
Upon publication in 1964, he and his colleagues were ridiculed as young pretenders and urged to abandon their research or risk "professional suicide".
Prof Gerry Guralnik, an American researcher who published a paper on the same subject with colleagues Tom Kibble and Dick Hagen within months of Higgs, recalled a galling encounter with Werner Heisenberg, the esteemed German physicist who gave his name to the famous "uncertainty principle" of quantum mechanics.
He said: "A lot of famous people told us that we were wrong. Heisenberg told me I did not understand the rules of physics, which is pretty scary if you are 26 and are worried about getting a job."
Yesterday, the scientific community was united in its praise for Prof Higgs, with some calling for him to be given a knighthood.
Prof Stephen Hawking said Prof Higgs deserved a Nobel Prize for his work, but admitted the discovery of the new particle had come at a cost.
He said: "I had a bet with Gordon Kane of Michigan University that the Higgs particle wouldn't be found. It seems I have just lost $100."
What has been found?
Both of the Cern teams have announced the discovery of a new particle which is consistent with theories about the Higgs Boson. Although they haven't proven it is definitely a Higgs, there is little doubt in most experts' minds that the sought-after particle has indeed been unearthed at last.
What does it mean?
Finding the Higgs Boson proves the existence of the Higgs Field, a force which provides fundamental particles - the building blocks of the Universe - with their mass. Without mass they would simply zip around the cosmos at the speed of light and never form into stars and planets. It is also the last missing cornerstone of the Standard Model of Physics, which explains what the Universe is composed of.
Will it have any practical applications?
Immediately, no. The purpose of the research was simply to uncover one of the Universe's great mysteries and further our understanding of science. But experts firmly believe it will be of paramount importance in future research which could provide new breakthroughs.
About the Lecture
Perhaps the universe is not so much strange as brimming with lovely paradox. The search for such beauty seems to lie at the heart of Frank Wilczek’s work. Twentieth century physics, from Einstein through Wilczek’s own Nobel Prize-winning efforts, involves demonstrating the existence of a topsy-turvy reality: for instance, that such sub-atomic particles as quarks and gluons, which have little or no mass, “orchestrate themselves into not just protons and neutrons but you and me,” according to Wilczek. “How is it possible to construct heavy objects out of objects that weigh nothing?,” he asks. Only by “creating mass out of pure energy.” These particles are essentially “excitations in otherwise empty space.” Says Wilczek: “That suggests something …beautiful and poetic: the masses of particles are not like, or similar to or metaphorically suggested by—they are the tones or frequencies of vibration patterns in dynamical voids.” The theory of quarks and gluons and the strong interaction accounts quantitatively for “the mass of protons, neutrons and ultimately you and me and everything around us.” But physics has not yet squared away all aspects of the universe. Wilzcek says that “in cosmology, we meet our match, and don’t know what’s going on.” This is because scientists can’t account for much of the mass in the cosmos. 70% of this mass is in “dark energy,” which is pushing the universe apart. Wilczek hopes that explanations for the dark stuff will emerge through improving equations, unifying theories of different interactions and extending their symmetries. “Beautifying equations leads not to ugly consequences but beautiful surprises,” he concludes.
that which consists of either matter or energy. Therefore if a god exists, it must be composed of either matter or energy.
The opposite must also be true. If a god is not composed of matter or energy, then that god, by definition, does not exist. Thus to argue that a god exist, despite a total absence of matter or energy, is to argue, existence equals non-existence, which is a complete contradiction.
If a god exists, then physical evidence is really the only methodology by which we can ascertain that a god exists. Of course, this does not require direct physical evidence -- we cannot perceive black holes directly, but we know that they exist due to the effects of their gravity wells on surrounding matter, as well as the flashes of energy that are released as captured matter crosses the event horizon. But since "existence" is defined as that which is composed of matter or energy, the proof of existence must be some evidence of that matter or energy.
Evidence is defined as that which impacts our physical senses in some manner, either directly, or through some translating device such as a spectrograph or an oscilloscope. Since our sensory organs are designed to perceive the effects of matter and energy, it is through the evidence of the senses that we can determine the existence or nonexistence of things.
If I argue that something exists, but then claim there is no way to detect it, my argument contradicts itself. Let's say I tell a deaf man that I hear a deep, loud sound coming from a speaker. If he lays his hand on it and feels no vibrations, he has every right to be skeptical. If I say that this loud sound does not have vibrations, he may then pull out his trusty microphone or other sound wave detector. If this instrument detects no sound in the vicinity, can I still tell him that this loud sound is occurring? At some point, if my definition of "loud sound" basically boils down to "that which is the opposite of any evidence that a loud sound is occurring," then clearly my approach to truth needs a little work.
This approach helps clarify the truth value of the proposition that a god does not exist. If a god exists, then sensual evidence of some sort is required to determine the existence of that god. If a god is not made up of matter or energy, then that god does not exist, since that which is not composed of matter or energy -- does not exist. If a god is made up of matter and energy, then it is subject to physical laws. Since it is bound by physical laws, miracles are impossible, because miracles are, by definition, violations of physical laws. Likewise, a god cannot be all knowing and all-powerful, since both attributes would violate the basic tenets of physical laws. All knowing would require instantaneous knowledge of all matter, past, present and future, which is clearly impossible, while all powerful would require the ability to break the bounds of physical laws, which brings us back to the realm of nonexistence.
If a god is subject to physical laws, then praying to a god makes about as much sense as worshiping a black hole, begging the Sun to grant you favors, or circumcising your son to appease the moon. If a god is not subject to physical laws, then the concept of a god is synonymous with the concept of non-existence.
Why is there such resistance to the fact that a god does not exist? Many people redefine "God" within their own minds as "a potential form of matter or energy that has not been discovered yet," or "that which could exist in an alternate universe," or something to that effect.
However, either a criterion for determining truth exists, or it does not. If such a criterion exists, then it must be objective, and based on the evidence of the senses and reason, which precludes the existence of any deities. If no such criterion exists, then both everything and nothing is true, and agnosticism, atheism, superstition, religion and the belief of the flying spaghetti monster are all equally valid.
If an objective criterion for truth exists, then it cannot logically be applied according to whim, or only in situations that feel emotionally comfortable. Through this logical method we can determine no god exists.
Actions are more important than beliefs.