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Peter Higgs, who suggested the existence of the “God particle,” has passed away at 94

The University of Edinburgh says Nobel prize-winning physicist Peter Higgs, who suggested the existence of a sub-atomic particle that came to be known as the Higgs boson, has died at 94.

LONDON — Peter Higgs, a physicist who won the Nobel prize, suggested the existence of the so-called “God particle” which helped to explain how matter was formed after the Big Bang. He has died at the age of 94, the University of Edinburgh announced Tuesday.

The University of Edinburgh, where Higgs was an emeritus professor, said he passed away on Monday after a brief illness.

In 1964, Higgs anticipated the presence of a new particle, which became known as the Higgs boson. He theorized that there needed to be a sub-atomic particle of a specific dimension to clarify how other particles — and thus all the stars and planets in the universe — gained mass. Without a particle like this, the set of equations physicists use to describe the world, known as the standard model, would not hold together.

Higgs’ work assists scientists in comprehending one of the most essential mysteries of the universe: how the Big Bang created something out of nothing 13.8 billion years ago. Without mass from the Higgs, particles could not group together to form the matter we encounter every day.

However, it would take nearly 50 years before the existence of the particle could be confirmed. In 2012, in a significant advancement in physics, scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, declared that they had finally discovered a Higgs boson using the Large Hardron Collider, the $10 billion atom smasher in a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel beneath the Swiss-French border.

The collider was mainly designed to locate Higgs’ particle. It generates collisions with extremely high energies to replicate some of the conditions present in the trillionths of seconds after the Big Bang.

Higgs received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work, along with Francois Englert of Belgium, who independently proposed the same theory.

Peter Mathieson, Vice Chancellor of Edinburgh University, stated that Higgs, who was born in Newcastle, was “an exceptional individual – a truly talented scientist whose vision and imagination have enhanced our understanding of the world around us.”

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

Born in Newcastle, northeast England on May 29, 1929, Higgs studied at King’s College, University of London, and was granted a PhD in 1954. He spent a large part of his career at Edinburgh, becoming the Personal Chair of Theoretical Physics at the Scottish university in 1980. He retired in 1996.

One memorable moment in Higgs’ career was in 2013 at CERN in Geneva, where scientists presented, in complex terms based on statistical analysis that most laypeople would not understand, that the boson had been confirmed. He became emotional, wiping his glasses at the stands of a CERN lecture hall.

“There was an emotion — a kind of vibration — going around in the auditorium,” said Fabiola Gianotti, the CERN director-general, to The Associated Press. “That was just a unique moment, a unique experience in a professional life.”

“Peter was a very emotional person. He was very kind, very friendly at the same time. And always curious about what other people had to say,” she said. “Able to hear other people … open, and compelling, and curious.”

Joel Goldstein, of the School of Physics at the University of Bristol, said: “Peter Higgs was a reserved and humble man, who never seemed comfortable with the fame he achieved even though this work underpins the entire modern theoretical framework of particle physics.”

Gianotti remembered how Higgs often reacted negatively to the term “God particle” for his discovery: “I don’t think he liked this kind of label,” she said. “It was not in his manner.”

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