He solved one of the greatest mysteries in the universe…but last night Peter Higgs was at the centre of one himself.
Professor Higgs, the scientist who first predicted the existence of the ‘God particle’, was yesterday awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, but officials admitted they did not know where he was or if he even knew he had won the award.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences could not raise him on the phone before making the announcement and said he had gone ‘into hiding’.
Alan Walker, a friend and fellow physicist, said: ‘The pressure was so much he decided to go on holiday without a phone to avoid the media storm.
‘He’s not available and good for him. He didn’t tell even me.’
In a statement prepared last week, amid anticipation that he would be the 120th Briton to be honoured with a Nobel Prize, Prof Higgs said he was ‘overwhelmed’.
Born in Newcastle in 1929, the son of a BBC sound engineer, Peter Higgs was a gifted pupil at Bristol’s Cotham Grammar where he won many prizes – although none for physics.
He chose to study at King’s College London, after rejecting Oxford and Cambridge as the choice of the ‘idle rich’, and gained a first-class honours degree in 1950.
He was a young lecturer at Edinburgh University in 1964 when he dreamed up the particle that would make him famous.
Along with two other groups of scientists who were working independently, he came up with an explanation of how the most basic building blocks of the universe gain mass.
The theory states that the cosmos is pervaded by an invisible field that confers mass on particles as they pass through it.
Unlike the other scientists of the time, Prof Higgs also forecast the field was made up of countless tiny particles – Higgs bosons, or God particles.
The theory was not universally accepted and one of his papers was rejected for publication because it was ‘of no obvious relevance to physics’.
But by the 1980s, the hunt for the Higgs boson was on in earnest and last year, almost 50 years after Prof Higgs predicted its existence, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider found it.
Prof Higgs shares the prize with Belgian scientist Francois Englert, who with colleague Robert Brout proposed a similar theory around the same time.
Dr Brout died in 2011 and, under Nobel rules, cannot be honoured.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: ‘It took nearly 50 years and thousands of great minds to discover the Higgs boson after Prof Higgs proposed it, and he and all those people should be extremely proud.’
Professor Peter Higgs appears to wipe away a tear after scientists at the Large Hadron Collider claimed to have discovered a particle believed to be the Higgs Boson in 2012
Dr Alex Tapper, of Imperial College London, said: ‘Nobody can be more deserving of the prize than the visionaries who waited 50 years to discover if their ideas were right or wrong.’
Professor Paul Newman, of the University of Birmingham, added: ‘The audacity of proposing such a bizarre and all-pervading mechanism based on what was known half a century ago is simply stunning.’
Some had hoped that the third team of scientists to propose the theory would also be honoured.
But Nobel rules state the prize can be shared between only three people.
Tom Kibble, of Imperial College London, a member of the team that was overlooked, congratulated the winners but questioned why the Nobel committee was ‘constrained by a self-imposed rule’.