Edinburgh professor wins oldest scientific prize

Professor Peter Higgs has already won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Picture: JANE BARLOW

Professor Peter Higgs has already won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Picture: JANE BARLOW

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Nobel Prize winner Professor Peter Higgs has joined the likes of Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein after winning the world’s oldest scientific prize.

Prof Higgs, who lives in Edinburgh, has been given the Royal Society’s Copley Medal for his work on the theory of the Higgs boson.

Peter Higgs joins the ranks of the world’s greatest ever scientists

Sir Paul Nurse

He was recognised for the “fundamental contribution” he made to particle physics with his theory explaining the origin of mass in elementary particles.

The Copley Medal, which celebrates outstanding achievements in scientific research, was first awarded by the Royal Society in 1731 – 170 years before the first Nobel Prize.

More recent winners of the medal are theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, DNA fingerprinting pioneer Alec Jeffreys and Andre Geim, for his discovery of graphene.

Modern physics suggests that matter consists of a set of particles that act as building block. Between these particles lie forces that are mediated by another set of particles, and a fundamental property of the majority of particles is that they have a mass.

Prof Higgs has a plaque honouring his work in Roxburgh Street, where he devised his theory on the nature of mass more than 50 years ago.

He was a researcher at Edinburgh University in 1964 when he predicted a sub-atomic particle, now known as the Higgs boson, which enables other particles to acquire mass.

In 1964, he proposed a theory about the existence of a particle that explains why other particles have a mass. At the same time – yet separately – Francois Englert and Robert Brout proposed the same theory.

Prof Higgs’ groundbreaking work was confirmed by experiments at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Switzerland, at the Large Hadron Collider, in 2012. The successful experiments led to the Nobel Prize in Physics being awarded jointly to him and Mr Englert the next year.

The Copley Medal is among a string of awards, medals and prize lectures that were announced by the Royal Society yesterday. Scientists receive the awards in recognition of their achievements in a wide variety of fields of research.

Prof Higgs said: “It is an honour to be the recipient this year of the Copley Medal, the Royal Society’s premier award.”

Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, said: “Peter Higgs is a most deserving winner of the Copley Medal. I congratulate him.

“His work, alongside that of Francois Englert, has helped shape our fundamental 
understanding of the world around us. The search for the Higgs boson completely ignited the public’s imagination, hopefully inspiring the next generation of scientists.

“The Copley Medal is the highest honour the Royal Society can give a scientist and Peter Higgs joins the ranks of the world’s greatest ever scientists.”