Peter Higgs, scientist who discovered the ‘god particle’, dies at 94

Peter Higgs, the “truly gifted scientist” who demonstrated the existence of the subatomic particle, has died aged 94.

Higgs, an emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, won a Nobel prize and a host of other plaudits for his work on what became known as the Higgs boson, showing how it gave the universe its shape. The hunt to prove the existence of the particle became one of science’s greatest projects – and it was found, in 2012, using the Large Hadron Collider.

The implications of the search were so vast that the Higgs boson was dubbed the “god particle”, though many scientists rejected the name. Higgs himself disdained the celebrity that its discovery brought, telling the BBC that it was “a bit of a nuisance”.

Higgs died at home in Edinburgh on Monday following a short illness, the university said.

Sir Peter Mathieson, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Peter Higgs was a remarkable individual – a truly gifted scientist whose vision and imagination have enriched our knowledge of the world that surrounds us.

“His pioneering work has motivated thousands of scientists, and his legacy will continue to inspire many more for generations to come.”

Higgs was born in Newcastle, in 1929. He first studied at Kings College London but took up a post at the University of Edinburgh in 1960, working there until he retired in 1996.

He once revealed he had turned down a knighthood in 1999 as he did not want any title. However, he did accept recognition from the late queen in 2014 when he was appointed a Companion of Honour during a ceremony at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

In 1964, he proposed a theory of how particles acquired mass that depended on the particle that would eventually take his name. It suggested that all of physics depended on a special kind of particle – the Higgs boson – that was required to make the universe exist but which had not at that point been discovered.

Almost 50 years later, Cern’s Large Hadron Collider found evidence of the Higgs particle, confirming the Standard Model of physics and Higgs’ work. That led to him receiving the Nobel prize a year later, sharing it with Francois Englert, another physicist who proposed the same theory at the same time, independently of Higgs’ work.

The director general of Cern, Fabiola Gianotti, described Prof Higgs as an “immensely inspiring figure”.

“Besides his outstanding contributions to particle physics, Peter was a very special person, an immensely inspiring figure for physicists across the world, a man of rare modesty, a great teacher and someone who explained physics in a very simple and yet profound way,” she said.

“An important piece of Cern's history and accomplishments is linked to him. I am very saddened, and I will miss him sorely.”

Particle physicist Brian Cox, a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, said Prof Higgs’ name “will be remembered as long as we do physics”.

Paying tribute, Sir Ian Blatchford, director and chief executive of the Science Museum Group, said Higgs was a “brilliant scientist who helped us to understand the fundamental building blocks of our universe”.