To the Memories of Peter Higgs

'Tosin Adeoti
3 min readApr 10, 2024

Have you heard of Peter Higgs before?

I first learned about him during my extramural lessons while preparing for my GCE in SS1. We had this teacher who was quite enthusiastic about physics.

We would finish school around 4 pm, then I would hurry home to prepare dinner and put in the cooler for everyone before rushing out to ‘lesson’. Classes ran from 5:30 pm to around 8 pm. I ended up using my GCE results to gain admission to the university. My passing in physics was probably due to the dedication of a particular physics teacher, who also taught mathematics. After classes, he allowed us hang out with him and discuss various topics in those two subjects.

It was during one of those discussions about the origin of the universe that I first heard about the ‘God particle’. It was a discussion about how the building blocks of the Universe have mass. Being a theist, the teacher’s beliefs did not make him comfortable accepting the Big Bang theory, but he was nevertheless open to explaining what the scientific community was saying about it to us. “Suppose the Big Bang happened, what changes occurred?” was how we began talking about Higgs.

In 1964, Peter Higgs, who later became an emeritus professor at Edinburgh, proposed that the universe is filled with a field called the Higgs field. After the Big Bang, there were changes in the nature of the particles in the universe. As these particles moved through this field, they interacted with a subatomic particle called the Higgs Boson and acquired mass. Before entering this field, they were massless, but by the time they finished their interaction, they had gained mass. Higgs was a 35-year-old assistant professor at this time.

Using this theory, physicists explained quantum phenomena. This opened up the way for fundamental research into the universe’s past and likely future. The Higgs Boson became a crucial component of the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes the fundamental particles and forces that make up the universe. Higgs Boson is a particle that could explain three fundamental forces (electromagnetism and the weak and the strong nuclear forces) in one theory.

Still, scientists could not detect this particle in the universe, which disturbed physicists a lot. How could the Holy Grail of physics be so elusive? Once, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman tried in vain, leading him to write a book titled the “Goddamn Particle”. His editor told him the title may not be altogether appropriate for a man of his stature and convinced him to change it to the “God particle”. It stuck.

But in 2012, half a century later, physicists used the Large Hadron Collider in CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), Switzerland to smash two beams of particles together at almost light speed, attempting to recreate conditions moments after the Big Bang. The experiment — considered one of the most sophisticated in human history — detected the Higgs Boson for the first time, validating Higgs’ theory.

Thus, in 2013, Higgs was awarded the Nobel prize for Physics for his revolutionary work showing how the Boson helps bind the Universe together. I smiled when I heard he was informed he had been awarded the prize by an ex-neighbor on his way home, since he did not have a mobile phone. This Englishman didn’t own a television or use email or a cellphone.

We may call it the ‘God Particle’ but Higgs is not particularly enthused with the name. He has often lamented the letters he has received which claim the God particle was predicted in the Torah, the Qur’an, and Buddhist scriptures. “Some people get confused between the science and the theology,” he once complained to The Guardian.

Yesterday, Professor Peter Higgs died aged 94 in his sleep. His prediction of the Higgs Boson helped revolutionize the understanding of the universe, and recalling the events of the night that teacher told me about him and his theory takes me back memory lane into one of the best times of my teenage years.