The School pays tribute to Professor Peter Higgs

Colleagues are saddened by the loss of renowned physicist Professor Peter Higgs who has died, aged 94, after a short illness.

Professor Peter Higgs is best known for predicting the existence of a fundamental physical particle that came to bear his name. He was a researcher at the University in 1964 when he published a paper proposing a mechanism for how particles acquire mass. Key to this mechanism was a particle that subsequently became known as the Higgs boson.

Nearly 50 years later, in 2012, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland announced the discovery of this particle. This led to the award of a Nobel Prize for Physics for Professor Higgs and Professor Francois Englert in 2013. 

Professor Higgs passed away peacefully at home on 8 April 2024 following a short illness.

Early years

Professor Higgs was born on 29 May 1929 in Newcastle upon Tyne. He studied Theoretical Physics at King's College London and gained his PhD in 1954. He was appointed Lecturer in Mathematical Physics at the University of Edinburgh in 1960 and became Professor of Theoretical Physics in 1980.

The Higgs Mechanism 

Professor Higgs’s renowned work in theoretical particle physics, published in 1964, elucidated the mechanism by which the known fundamental particles acquire their mass. His work inspired experimental endeavours to find the particle predicted by this mechanism - the so-called Higgs boson - which led to its discovery in 2012 and his subsequent award of a Nobel Prize, along with Francois Englert. Together with Brout, they devised the theory of the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism which invokes a field permeating all of space with which particles interact in order acquire mass. This field would have an associated particle, the Higgs boson, that would eventually be the last discovered particle in the Standard Model of Particle Physics, completing a self-consistent picture of the fundamental particles, albeit with many clues that more may lie beyond the Standard Model. The impact of this work was to answer a profound question, namely how mass is given to particles. The insight that Professor Higgs had was to design a specially shaped field that would allow an interaction with other Standard Model particles and in particular to give mass to the distinctly non-zero mass W and Z bosons, inferred at that time from the short range nature of the weak force. 

Experimental evidence

It is a triumph of the Standard Model and the Higgs mechanism that this particle has been demonstrated to exist, and since the discovery in 2012 at the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (including Edinburgh experimental particle physicists alongside many international colleagues), the evidence that this new boson conforms to the expectations for the Standard Model Higgs boson has only strengthened. This information comes from the rate of interaction of the Higgs boson with other particles namely the W, Z, photon bosons and the tau, bottom and top fermions (with further early evidence that this picture also holds for muons) and the fundamental quantum properties of the Higgs boson. Future measurements will be able to tell us its rate of coupling to itself and may reveal further as yet unseen interactions to the second and even first generation of fundamental particles.


In 2012, the School of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh founded the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics and established the Higgs Chair for Theoretical Physics in honour of Peter’s work. The Centre works to seek answers to fundamental questions about the universe by creating opportunities for researchers and students from around the world to come together to formulate new theoretical concepts, taking us beyond the limitations of current paradigms.

In addition, in celebration of the technical achievement involved in the discovery of the Higgs boson, in 2018 the School and University, together with the UK Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), created the Higgs Centre for Innovation, which is located at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. The aim for the Higgs Centre for Innovation is to build not only on the technologies being developed for CERN but also for the European Space Agency, and the UK Space Agency by encouraging the establishment and growth of new high-technology companies.

Both Higgs Centres have gone from strength to strength, expanding dramatically over the last few years. As a result, Professor Higgs's legacy lives on and will have an impact far beyond his key individual contribution for many years to come.

Professor Higgs is remembered as a kind and humble colleague as well as an excellent and enthusiastic lecturer to generations of students.  Edinburgh is proud to have him among its academic staff where his Nobel Prize was, and still is, cause for great celebration. 

Image credit: Peter Tuffy / University of Edinburgh