The Nobel Prize for physics in 2013 has been awarded to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert, a Briton and a Belgian, "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider".
Almost 50 years ago in 1964, Englert and Robert Brout, who died in 2011, and Peter Higgs independently published their work in the span of a few days. They had described a mechanism making use of what was known about particle physics at that time to try to answer a perplexing problem: How do particles acquire mass?
Higgs and Englert hypothesised a quantum field, which is a distribution of some energy, throughout the universe. When the field is disturbed, waves travel through it. The dimmest possible wave is called a particle. In this field, since called a Higgs field, the associated particle is called the Higgs boson.
For physicists, finding the Higgs boson meant that the Higgs field exists. And because of the Higgs field and its properties, any fundamental particles that wade through it cause Higgs bosons to clump around the particles. This clumping causes the particle to acquire energy and, therefore, mass.
The existence of the Higgs boson was confirmed at the Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, Switzerland, over the last year. On July 4, 2012, first hints of the boson's existence were spotted at the collider. Ever since, a series of tests on the particle have yielded confirmation, establishing Higgs's and Englert's work as a cornerstone of modern particle physics.
Through an Edinburgh University statement, where Higgs is an emeritus professor, he said he was overwhelmed to receive the award and congratulated "all those who have contributed to the discovery of this new particle and to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support. I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research."