Emerging Technologies

Remembering Peter Higgs: A legacy that looks forward to the quantum future

Peter Higgs poses in front of a photographic image of the Atlas detector at the Science Museum, London.

Peter Higgs poses in front of a photographic image of the Atlas detector at the Science Museum, London. Image: Reuters/Toby Melville

Karyn Gorman
Communications Lead, Metaverse Initiative, World Economic Forum
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  • Peter Higgs, who recently passed at the age of 94, was pivotal in discovering the Higgs boson particle, earning a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013.
  • Higgs's contributions continue to influence scientific and academic communities, bridging theoretical physics with real-world applications.
  • The World Economic Forum's Quantum Economy Network builds on the insights from Peter Higgs's particle physics discoveries to apply quantum insights to real-world challenges.

Peter Higgs, the theoretical physicist whose prediction of the Higgs boson reshaped the landscape of particle physics, passed away on 8 April at the age of 94 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His pivotal work not only revolutionized our understanding of the fundamental forces and particles governing the cosmos, but also sparked a global quest to confirm they existed.

Higgs's theory served as the catalyst for an ambitious scientific endeavour, spanning decades of research, technological innovation and unprecedented international collaboration. This monumental effort involved the construction of colossal particle accelerators, the development of cutting-edge detectors, and the coordination of thousands of scientists worldwide, united in their pursuit of unlocking the secrets of the universe.

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The culmination of this quest came to fruition at CERN in Switzerland in 2012 with the detection of the Higgs boson particle, validating Higgs' insights. This discovery not only represented a triumph of scientific ingenuity, but also underscored humanity's commitment to exploration and discovery. In recognition of their contributions, Peter Higgs and Belgian physicist Francois Englert were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013, cementing their legacy as pioneers in the field of particle physics.

Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England in 1929, Peter Higgs was influenced by the work of British theorist Paul Dirac, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics. Higgs’s own journey in physics began at King’s College London and continued through various academic positions, culminating in a decades-long appointment at the University of Edinburgh. Known for his modest lifestyle and preference for the tranquillity of nature over the digital world, Higgs led a career marked by profound contributions to the field of particle physics, particularly through his work on the Standard Model. This theory describes fundamental particles and their interactions through electromagnetic, weak and strong forces; Higgs and others proposed the Higgs mechanism, which explains how particles acquire mass through interaction with the Higgs field.

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Higg’s passing compels us to reflect on his contributions to particle physics and their significant impact on the future of quantum science. His work not only laid the groundwork for deeper exploration into the quantum realm, but also set the stage for initiatives like the World Economic Forum's Quantum Economy Network. This project aims to bridge the gap between cutting-edge quantum technologies and practical applications, drawing on scientific breakthroughs to solve real-world challenges. It builds on the foundational understanding established by Higgs, pushing the boundaries of what quantum science can achieve in daily life.

The Quantum Economy Network promotes collaboration among academia, industry, and government, inspired by the cross-disciplinary synergies pivotal in the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. These collaborations are vital for propelling quantum technologies forward, poised to revolutionize computing, telecommunications, and problem-solving across sectors. Peter Higgs's legacy extends beyond scientific achievements, inspiring initiatives to harness quantum principles for practical applications.

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