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Higgs and Folt
Photo credit: David Cheskin
Peter Higgs, professor emeritus in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, was presented with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during a ceremony at the University of Edinburgh on March 3.The honor was presented to Higgs by Carol L. Folt, chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, at a ceremony hosted by Professor Richard Kenway, vice principal of high performance computing for the University of Edinburgh. After the ceremony, the Institute of Physics and Edinburgh City Council unveiled a commemorative plaque honoring Higgs at the central Edinburgh office in which he wrote his seminal papers.

“Nearly half a century ago, Professor Higgs found himself at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducting revolutionary work in physics and his work continues to inspire us,” said Chancellor Folt. “His research had a profound impact on the field of fundamental physics, and his example motivates our faculty and students to pursue their passions and make their own significant mark on their discipline.”

Higgs-honorary degree
Photo credit: David Cheskin

Folt explained that the honorary degree was presented in recognition of Higgs’ revolutionary work in particle physics that culminated in 2012 with the identification of the Higgs boson and his subsequent honor of being jointly awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics.

Professor Kenway said, “It is truly historic to celebrate such a seminal theory in physics with its author, Peter Higgs, in the building where he first wrote it more than 50 years ago, and in the company of some of his colleagues from that time.”

On July 4, 2012, physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, announced that a Higgs boson-like particle (named after Peter Higgs) had been found. This discovery proved the final piece of the standard model of elementary particle physics: a theoretical framework that describes all fundamental particles and forces except gravity. According to the theory advanced by Higgs and others, elementary particles acquire their mass from their interactions with the Higgs field that permeates all space.

As with all quantum fields, there is a particle associated with the Higgs field. Finding the Higgs boson proved the existence of the Higgs field. The theoretical paper that lies behind the CERN experiments was written by Higgs in 1965-1966 during his tenure at the Bahnson Institute of Field Physics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Higgs’ work has played a central role in physicists’ quest to unify the forces of nature.

“The UNC Department of Physics and Astronomy is honored to be associated with the work on symmetry breaking Professor Higgs conducted while a visitor to our department in 1965 and 1966,” said department chair Christopher J. Clemens. “We congratulate him on his many accomplishments as he receives an honorary PhD from our Chancellor Carol Folt.”

Higgs graduated from King’s College London with a first class honors degree in physics in 1950, a master’s degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1954.

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