Rice U. physicists celebrate Nobel Prize for Higgs discovery

Rice team participated in LHC experiments that upheld Nobel-winning theory

The 2013 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded Tuesday to theorists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert for their work developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field, but the prize is being celebrated by experimental particle physicists at Rice — and thousands like them — who participated in the groundbreaking 2012 discovery of the Higgs particle that led to the Nobel announcement.

“Taking part in the amazing race to discover the Higgs boson has been a crowning lifetime achievement for myself and for a lot of us here at Rice University who participated in the discovery of the Higgs boson,” said Rice physicist Paul Padley, one of dozens of Rice faculty and students who participated in experiments at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that confirmed the Higgs theory.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the Nobel on Tuesday, ending months of speculation about whether the July 2012 Higgs discovery at the LHC, which was widely hailed as one of the most important scientific discoveries in decades, would garner the 2013 Nobel.

The prize recognizes work done by Higgs and Englert in the 1960s, when they and other theorists published papers introducing key concepts in the theory of the Higgs field.

Their theory predicted the existence of an energy field that pervades the universe. According to the theory, matter would gain mass by interacting with the field. The more massive a particle, the more interaction it was presumed to have had with the Higgs field.

LHC Higgs Nobel CMS

Rice's team worked on the CMS experiment, one of two large LHC experiments that confirmed Higgs theory.

“Ever since the 1960s, we’ve presumed the existence of this field, which is an integral part of the theories that have been developed to explain the earliest moments of the universe,” said Padley, professor of physics and astronomy. “The LHC offered the first direct evidence that the Higgs field actually exists, as predicted. The evidence is little oscillations, which were predicted by the theory and which showed up, as particles, in our experiments at the LHC.”

Padley and fellow Rice faculty members Karl Ecklund, Frank Geurts, Wei Li and Jay Roberts worked on the LHC for many years, as did dozens of Rice graduate and undergraduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Rice’s team worked on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), one of two large LHC experiments that confirmed the theory.

Ecklund, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, said that with the Higgs discovery, “We are probing a part of our theories that bear on our own existence. In Higgs theory, a particle’s mass results from interactions with the Higgs particle. For electrons, if those interactions were stronger or weaker than they are, then electrons would orbit either too close or too far from the nucleus for chemistry to work as we know it. The universe would be a very different place.”

For more about Rice’s contributions to the LHC, see:

Rice has long history with CERN

Rice physicists help discover new particle that may be Higgs


About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.