Nanos Gigantum Humeris Insidentes...


Colleagues remember Peter Higgs as an inspirational scientist who remained humble despite his fame. Credit: Graham Clark/Alamy

Topics: CERN, Higgs Boson, High Energy Physics, Nobel Prize, Particle Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Theoretical Physics

Few scientists have enjoyed as much fame in recent years as British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, the namesake of the boson that was discovered in 2012, who died on 8 April, aged 94.

It was 60 years ago when Higgs first suggested how an elementary particle of unusual properties could pervade the universe in the form of an invisible field, giving other elementary particles their masses. Several other physicists independently thought of this mechanism around the same time, including François Englert, now at the Free University of Brussels. The particle was a crucial element of the theoretical edifice that physicists were building in those years, which later became known as the standard model of particles and fields.

Two separate experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland — ATLAS and the CMS — confirmed Higgs’ predictions when they announced the discovery of the Higgs boson half a century later. It was the last missing component of the standard model, and Higgs and Englert shared a Nobel Prize in 2013 for predicting its existence. Physicists at the LHC continue to learn about the properties of the Higgs boson, but some researchers say that only a dedicated collider that can produce the particle in copious amounts — dubbed a ‘Higgs factory’ — will enable them to gain a profound understanding of its role.

“Besides his outstanding contributions to particle physics, Peter was a very special person, an immensely inspiring figure for physicists around the world, a man of rare modesty, a great teacher and someone who explained physics in a very simple yet profound way,” said Fabiola Gianotti, director-general of CERN in an obituary posted on the organization’s website; Gianotti who announced the Higgs boson’s discovery to the world at CERN. “I am very saddened, and I will miss him sorely.”

Many physicists took to X, formerly Twitter, to pay tribute to Higgs and share their favorite memories of him. “RIP to Peter Higgs. The search for the Higgs boson was my primary focus for the first part of my career. He was a very humble man that contributed something immensely deep to our understanding of the universe,” posted Kyle Cranmer, physicist at the University of Wisconsin Madison and previously a senior member of the Higgs search team at the CMS.

Nanos gigantum humeris insidentes is a Latin phrase that translates to "dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants." It's a Western metaphor that expresses the idea of "discovering truth by building on previous discoveries." The phrase is derived from Greek mythology, where the blind giant Orion carried his servant Cedalion on his shoulders.

English scientist Sir Isaac Newton also coined the phrase "to stand on (someone's) shoulders" in his letter, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." This means that we are who we are because of the hard work of the people who came before us. Newton was talking about collective learning, or our species' ability to share, preserve, and build upon knowledge over time. Source: AI overview

Peter Higgs: science mourns giant of particle physics, Davide Castelvecchi, Nature

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