Tel Aviv University professor shares Nobel Prize in physics
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Tel Aviv University professor shares Nobel Prize in physics

François Englert, 80, a Belgian Holocaust survivor, wins prestigious prize with Peter Higgs

Belgian physicist Francois Englert, left, and British physicist Peter Higgs, right, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday, July 4, 2012. (photo credit: AP Photo/Keystone/Martial Trezzini)
Belgian physicist Francois Englert, left, and British physicist Peter Higgs, right, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday, July 4, 2012. (photo credit: AP Photo/Keystone/Martial Trezzini)

Physicists François Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of Britain won the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery of the Higgs particle, it was announced on Tuesday.

Englert, 80, is a Sackler Professor by Special Appointment in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Tel Aviv University, among other appointments, and is a Holocaust survivor.

The university has had “a deep connection” with Englert for many years, the TAU spokesman’s office told the Times of Israel on Tuesday.

“Professor Englert is a Belgian Jew, a professor emeritus at the University of Brussels and has had close research ties with the Tel Aviv University for the past thirty years,” the TAU said in a statement, adding that Englert is a senior professor of special status at the TAU School of Physics who regularly visits, teaches and consults on research.

During a special lecture in Tel Aviv in April, the university said, Engler delivered a lecture explaining the work for which he has just received the Nobel Prize.

In awarding the Nobel Prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited the two scientists for the “theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles.”

In 2004, Englert, Higgs and Robert Brout won the Wolf prize, an Israeli award handed out by the Wolf Foundation and seen as a precursor to the Nobel.

Englert’s main appointment is at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he has held positions since 1956 after receiving his PhD there. In 1984, he was appointed to the Tel Aviv University position, joining four other academics as Sackler professors by special appointment.

The physics prize announcement was delayed by one hour, which is highly unusual.

The academy gave no immediate reason, other than saying on Twitter that it was “still in session” at the original announcement time.

The academy decides the winners in a majority vote on the day of the announcement.

“I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy,” Higgs said in a statement released by the University of Edinburgh. “I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.”

Scientists have been on the trail of Higgs boson since 1964, when British physicist Peter Higgs theorized that elementary particles gained mass by interacting with a special quantum field that permeates space (the Higgs field), and leads to the development of quarks and electrons, the elementary particles of matter.

A simulated data projection of a Higgs boson collision (photo credit: CC BY Wikipedia)
A simulated data projection of a Higgs boson collision (photo credit: CC BY Wikipedia)

In essence, the Higgs boson is considered the final building block that has been missing from the “Standard Model,” which describes the structure of matter in the universe. An essential part of the theory, a boson that would provide the basic material for the development of matter (converting mass to matter and giving it different properties), was missing, and the search for the boson (called the Higgs boson), which could only be done in a proton accelerator (because of its size, scientists say), was under way.

Englert, along with his colleague Robert Brout, who passed away in 2011 and also was from the University of Belgium, were the first to publish, in 1964, the material that ultimately led to the Nobel prize. Higgs published a similar paper just several weeks later, in which he was the first to theorize the existence of a new particle type, later to be named after him.

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