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The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics
Beauty is truth, truth beauty
Good ideas in physics get repackaged in more and more sophisticated ways. Two of these oft-repackaged ideas are gauge invariance and spontaneous symmetry breaking. Either might conceivably have served as a basis of a theory of elementary particles, but both suffer from bizarre pathologies. Gauge invariance, when generalized beyond electromagnetism, generates a host of massless vector particles, and spontaneous symmetry breaking calls into existence the infamous Goldstone boson. But 49 years ago, Peter Higgs and independently F. Englert and R. Brout realized that if the two theories were packaged together, each would heal the other’s pathologies and make possible a complete theory. This could only happen if there was a heavy scalar particle that has come to be called the Higgs boson. Arguing on the basis of beauty and elegance alone, it seemed that the particle must exist, but its mass had to be much greater than anything that could be produced with existing accelerators. We have waited almost 50 years for our faith in the rationality of the universe to be vindicated, but just last year the particle was discovered at the LHC accelerator in Geneva. The colloquium will review the theory behind the so-called BEH mechanism and discuss some details of the experiments.