‘God particle’ theorists receive Nobel Prize in physics

Nobel prize

(CNN) — (CNN) — [Breaking news update at 6:51 a.m. Tuesday]

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics to scientists Francois Englert and Peter Higgs on Tuesday for their 1964 postulation of the existence of the Higgs boson. Scientists confirmed in July 2012 the existence of the so-called God particle, which is what gives matter its mass.

[Original story, posted at 2:35 a.m. Tuesday]

Headlines cheer ‘God particle’ as Nobel Prize in physics approaches

A team of academics in Stockholm will reveal to the world Tuesday this year’s recipients of the Nobel Prize in physics, and headlines around the world are rife with speculation that it will go to scientists who worked on the confirmation of the Higgs boson — the God particle.

That happened last year, too, and guess what? They didn’t win.

Instead, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences handed the prize to two scientists for their work with light and matter, which may lead the way to superfast quantum computing and the most precise clocks ever seen.

Serge Haroche of France and David Wineland of the United States shared the prize and received the coveted Nobel medal.

No Higgs boson?

That the academy passed over the Higgs boson sent jaws dropping around the world.

It’s not nicknamed the “God particle” for nothing. The Higgs boson gives matter its mass and has been integral part of the main theory on the nature of matter, the Standard Model, for decades.

The July 2012 discovery of the particle in the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, has been billed as one of the biggest scientific achievements of the last 50 years.

It was a first.

But the academy often steers away from firsts, and instead opts for a scientific advancement that is more mature, has been confirmed by additional experiments and has gone down as a vital cog in the larger clockwork of scientific theory.

So, is the Higgs out of the running for another decade or so?

No.

First of all, scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, have used the time to confirm the discovery and solidify its place in science.

On what would have been Albert Einstein’s birthday, March 14, they announced that over time, the particle looked even more like the Higgs boson they had been searching for almost 50 years.

And even if the Royal Academy is looking for a discovery with decades more history, they could award the prize to Peter Higgs, who postulated the particle’s existence in 1964.

At 84, the Nobel Prize in physics would make a nice lifetime achievement award for the professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

But be on the lookout again this year for any surprises, as the Royal Academy has a long list of deserving scientists and brilliant achievements to choose from.

And the field of physics covers a virtually infinite scale, from beyond the smallest sub-atomic particles to the largest, most distant stars and quasars in the vast reaches of the universe.

Last year’s winners

Last year’s prize to Haroche and Wineland rewarded work in the field of quantum optics. The two approached the same principles from opposite directions.

The American used light particles to measure the properties of matter, while his French colleague focused on tracking light particles by using atoms.

Both Nobel laureates found ways to isolate the subatomic particles and keep their properties intact at the same time.

Prior to the breakthrough, such particles quickly interacted with matter, which changed their qualities and rendered them unobservable. That left scientist stuck doing a lot of guesswork.

Future and past Nobels

Since 1901, the committee has handed out the Nobel Prize in physics 106 times. The youngest recipient was Lawrence Bragg, who won in 1915 at the age of 25. Bragg is not only the youngest physics laureate; he is also the youngest laureate in any Nobel Prize area.

The oldest physics laureate was Raymond Davis Jr., who was 88 years old when he was awarded the prize in 2002.

John Bardeen was the only physicist to receive the prize twice, for work in semiconductors and superconductivity.

Two Americans and a German shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine this year.

Americans James E. Rothman and Randy W. Schekman and German Thomas C. Sudhof were awarded the prize Monday for discoveries of how the body’s cells decide when and where to deliver the molecules they produce.

Disruptions of this delivery system contribute to diabetes, neurological diseases and immunological disorders.

In the coming days, the prize committee also will announce prizes in chemistry, literature, peace and economics.

Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel created the prizes in 1895 to honor work in physics, chemistry, literature and peace. The first economics prize was awarded in 1969.

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