Nobel Prize-winning physicist Professor Peter Higgs dies aged 94

The “truly gifted scientist” behind the concept of the subatomic particle the Higgs boson, Professor Peter Higgs, has died aged 94.

Professor Higgs predicted of the existence of a new particle – the so-called Higgs boson – in 1964.

The particle’s existence would not be confirmed for almost half a century, with experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern finally confirming his theory in 2012.

Prof Higgs, emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this work in 2013, along with Francois Englert.

Edinburgh University said in a statement on Tuesday: “It has been confirmed that Professor Peter Higgs has passed away at the age of 94.

“He died on Monday April 8 peacefully at home following a short illness.

“His family has asked that the media and public respect their privacy at this time.”

The university’s principal, Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, said: “Peter Higgs was a remarkable individual – a truly gifted scientist whose vision and imagination have enriched our knowledge of the world that surrounds us.

“His pioneering work has motivated thousands of scientists, and his legacy will continue to inspire many more for generations to come.”

The director general of Cern, Fabiola Gianotti, described Prof Higgs as an “immensely inspiring figure”.

She continued: “Besides his outstanding contributions to particle physics, Peter was a very special person, an immensely inspiring figure for physicists across the world, a man of rare modesty, a great teacher and someone who explained physics in a very simple and yet profound way.

“An important piece of Cern’s history and accomplishments is linked to him. I am very saddened, and I will miss him sorely.”

Professor Frank Close, a friend and colleague who wrote a biography of the scientist, said “Peter Higgs and his boson were both elusive.”

On the morning he was awarded the Nobel Prize, Prof Higgs headed to a seafood bar in Leith, a couple of miles from his Edinburgh home, rather than celebrate with colleagues, Prof Close said.

The Professor Emeritus of theoretical physics at Oxford University continued: “He disliked the limelight but was comfortable with friends and colleagues.

“His boson took 48 years to appear, and when the Nobel was announced, he had disappeared to his favourite sea food bar in Leith.”

Particle physicist Brian Cox, a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, said Prof Higgs’ name “will be remembered as long as we do physics”.

“Very sorry to hear Peter Higgs has died,” the science programme presenter said posting on X.

“I was fortunate enough to meet him several times, and beyond being a famous physicist – I think to his embarrassment at times – he was always charming and modest.

Nobel Prize for Higgs
Prof Higgs speaking to the media at a press conference in Edinburgh after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2013 (David Cheskin/PA)

“And of course his name will be remembered as long as we do physics in the form of the Higgs Boson. RIP Peter.”

Paying tribute, Sir Ian Blatchford, director and chief executive of the Science Museum Group, said Prof Higgs was a “brilliant scientist who helped us to understand the fundamental building blocks of our universe.

“We were honoured to celebrate his discovery of the Higgs boson through the Collider exhibition at the Science Museum and his work continues to inspire people today.”

Sir Keith Burnett, president of the Institute of Physics, called Prof Higgs “a true giant of physics” whose life’s work “is certain to continue to inspire, inform and advance our understanding of the universe for many generations to come”.

Other scientists paid tribute to Prof Higgs, with Professor Joel Goldstein, from the School of Physics at the University of Bristol, calling him a “quiet and modest man” who “never seemed comfortable with the fame he achieved even though this work underpins the entire modern theoretical framework of particle physics”.

Alan Barr, professor of particle physics at the University of Oxford, said: “He was also a true gentleman, humble and polite, always giving due credit to others, and gently encouraging future generations of scientists and scholars.”

The First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf said: “My thoughts are with Professor Higgs’ family, friends, colleagues and generations of students.

“A visionary whose idea, and its discovery some 48 years later, is transforming our understanding of the universe.

“His life and work will inspire generations of scientists to come.”

Prof Higgs was born in Newcastle in 1929, the son of a BBC sound engineer.

After his family moved to Bristol, he proved a brilliant pupil at Cotham Grammar School before going on to read theoretical physics at King’s College London.

A five-decade-long career then began when he graduated with a First Class Honours in 1950.

After failing to secure a lectureship at King’s College, he set off for Scotland and the University of Edinburgh. He remained there until retiring from the post in 2006 and assumed the title of emeritus professor.

His contribution to physics has long been recognised within the scientific world – with more than 10 honorary degrees and dozens of academic prizes since the 1980s.

But he once revealed he had turned down a knighthood in 1999 as he did not want any title.

He did accept recognition from the Queen in 2014 when he was appointed a Companion of Honour during a ceremony at the Palace of Holyroodhouse – an honour that does not bring a title.