Higgs boson scientists knighted

Prof Tom Kibble's work led to the discovery of the Higgs boson but he was overlooked for a Nobel Prize

Prof Tom Kibble’s work led to the discovery of the Higgs boson but he was overlooked for a Nobel Prize

A scientist who predicted the Higgs boson – and another who helped find it – have been knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Prof Tom Kibble of Imperial College London was one of six researchers whose work in the 1960s led to the eventual discovery of the Higgs.

The elusive particle was finally detected in 2012 at Cern by two giant experiments – Atlas and CMS.

CMS was designed by Prof Tejinder Jim Virdee, also of Imperial.

He originated the concept of CMS in 1990 with four colleagues, oversaw its construction, and acted as spokesman for the experiment when it first began taking data in 2006-10.

Prof Virdee developed new technologies within the detector that ultimately allowed it to find the Higgs – the mechanism which explains how sub-atomic particles came to have substance, or mass.

‘Over the Moon’

Both he and Prof Kibble become knights. They are joined by other distinguished scientists including Prof John Bernard Pethica of the National Physical Laboratory, and Prof Colin Blakemore of the University of London, former head of the Medical Research Council.


Prof Virdee is one of the “founding fathers” of the CMS detector which found the Higgs boson

Prof Jessica Corner, dean of health sciences at the University of Southampton, is made a dame.

The timing of Prof Kibble’s award is particularly poignant – after he was controversially overlooked for the Nobel Prize in Physics last year.

The Nobel Committee chose to honour Peter Higgs and Francois Englert, but not the other three living physicists who first developed the theory – Gerald Guralnik, Carl Hagen and Tom Kibble.

Peter Higgs himself said that Kibble was “the obvious candidate” to be the third scientist honoured by the Nobel Committee, whose rules permit no more than three recipients per gong.

“I really rather hoped before the announcement that they would make the number up to three,” Prof Higgs told BBC News.

“Not only did [Kibble] publish the last of the papers in 1964, he also wrote a longer paper that was really very important in generalising the sort of thing I had written in ’64.”

Among the first to pay tribute to Prof Kibble’s honour was his fellow knight and Imperial colleague Prof Virdee.

“Brilliant. I was hoping Tom would be recognised. I’m very, very happy for him, and I’m sure we’ll have a glass of champagne when next we meet,” he told BBC News.

“The work we do at Cern really started in the 1960s with the seminal papers authored by Tom Kibble.

“It has taken a very long time [to prove them] and it’s great to have recognition for the experiment [CMS], as well as the theory.

“It wasn’t clear we could actually build CMS when we first envisaged it. We had to invent new technologies to do the things we wanted to do.

“Thousands of scientists and engineers have worked on CMS and it was their painstaking efforts creating this experiment that made these discoveries possible.virdee1

“The Higgs is a very special type of particle – one we’ve never seen before. It has strange properties that we need to understand.

“This award was a complete surprise to me. It’s really quite humbling and of course I’m delighted to receive it. I’m over the Moon to be frank.”

Distinguished figures in science and technology make up about 3% of this year’s Birthday Honours list.

Knighthoods are awarded to Prof Michael John Owen, director of the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, Cardiff University, and to Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health, at Lancaster University.

Anupam Ojha, director of the National Space Academy, receives an OBE, while Prof Colin Robert McInnes, director of the Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory, is awarded an MBE.

Prof Nicholas Pidgeon of the University of Cardiff is awarded an MBE for services to Climate Change Awareness and Energy Security Policy, while Prof Julie Lydia Fitzpatrick, scientific director of the Moredun Research Institute, in Midlothian, receives an OBE for services to animal health and science.

The chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Prof David Thomas Delpy, receives a CBE for services to engineering and scientific research.