Perimeter offers its heartiest congratulations to the winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics, Francois Englert and Peter Higgs. In the 1960s, these theorists discovered how the vacuum could be permeated by something called a Higgs field, which distinguishes elementary particles from each other and endows them with mass. When this mechanism was finally confirmed by the discovery of the Higgs boson – a tiny ripple in the Higgs field – at CERN last year, it was a triumph that joined the forward-looking power of theory to the powerful discovery engines of experiment.
Perimeter Director Neil Turok commented, “The discovery of the Higgs boson represents one of humankind’s greatest triumphs – to anticipate on the basis of mathematical theory the workings of nature on such tiny, inaccessible scales and then, nearly a half-century later, to confirm the predictions in the most ambitious experiment ever conducted, the Large Hadron Collider. The details of the discovery are equally exciting, hinting at new principles governing the universe.”
He added, “As we celebrate Englert and Higgs, we also remember Englert’s collaborator in this landmark work, Robert Brout. He was a valued member of our own Perimeter community.”
The Nobel Prize is only awarded to living persons, and Brout died in 2011; he would have likely shared in the prize if he were alive today. This sentiment was echoed by Professor Englert at a press conference at the Free University of Brussels: “Of course I am happy to have won the prize – that goes without saying – but there is regret too that my colleague and friend, Robert Brout, is not there to share it.”
In the early 1960s, Brout and Englert worked together to apply quantum field theory to elementary particle physics. In a ground-breaking 1964 paper, they used this new marriage of ideas to show how some gauge bosons acquire mass. The paper was followed a few weeks later by an independent paper from Peter Higgs on the same subject. The hunt for the Higgs boson can be traced back to those two papers.
Professor Brout was for many years an honoured presence at Perimeter, visiting frequently from 2005 on. He gave many talks at Perimeter – they are available online – and continued doing ground-breaking research, both independently and in collaboration with Perimeter scientists, until he fell ill in 2009.
Brout was a wide-ranging and prolific scientist, who did work in field theory, elementary particle physics, lattice gauge theory, general relativity, black hole physics, and cosmology. Aside from his work on the origin of mass, he will probably be remembered for developing the idea of inflation (again, with Englert) and relating it to the emergence of the universe itself from a quantum fluctuation.
Perimeter salutes all three of these pioneers, who have so greatly advanced our understanding of the universe and our place in it.
- Read Higgs, Englert, and Brout’s original landmark papers in Physical Review Letters
- Visit the Nobel Prize website for the official citation
- Watch Brout’s Perimeter talks on the Perimeter Institute Recorded Seminar Archive (PIRSA)
- Read Englert’s obituary for Brout via Physics Today
- Check out Brout’s last paper on the arXiv