Physicists around the world spent decades looking for the elusive Higgs boson particle, which was first theorized by Peter Higgs and François Englert nearly 50 years ago. This week journalists got a hint of those scientists' frustration as Higgs, who just won the Nobel Prize for his work, has himself disappeared.
No, this isn't an Agatha Christie-style mystery of the missing mathematician. Higgs, age 84, isn't the victim of foul play; he just decided to remove himself from the media frenzy over the Higgs boson Nobel Prize by taking an unannounced vacation and leaving his cellphone behind. Even the Nobel Prize committee was reportedly unable to reach him to let him know that he had won. "He didn't tell even me," fellow University of Edinburgh physicist Alan Walker told The Guardian. "He's not available, and good for him."
His vanishing act is not out of character for the British theoretical physicist. He has often eschewed talking to the press and has preferred to share credit for the Higgs boson with the many other scientists who all theorized its existence at about the same time in 1964 and those who finally discovered it in 2013.
Although Higgs – who has been called both a "reclusive genius" and "notoriously shy" — did not make himself available to the media, he did release a statement through the University of Edinburgh website: "I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy [the organization that administers the Nobel Prizes]. I would also like to congratulate all those who have contributed to the discovery of this new particle and to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support. I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research."
Higgs himself has won numerous awards over the past several decades, but the Higgs mechanism remains his best-known accomplishment. A recent BBC News profile suggests his shyness lessened the impact of his career, although has remained a valued writer and teacher.
While Higgs remains incognito, others are speaking out. Many praise Higgs while some have criticized the Nobel committee, whose rules restrict the prize to just three recipients. That left out a few of the boson theorizers, including University of Rochester professor Carl Richard Hagen, 76, who also proposed the particle back in 1964. "Faced with a choice between their rulebook and an evenhanded judgment, the Swedes chose the rulebook," Hagen told the Washington Post.
In Higgs' absence, Englert alone was able to speak with the press. He told The Telegraph that he was "very happy" about the award and said Higgs "did very important and excellent work."
For more on the Higgs boson, check out this explanatory video from Fermilab:
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