Peter Higgs and Stephen Hawking launch Science Museum exhibition

12 November 2013

Prof. Peter Higgs made a public appearance this morning at the Science Museum to launch the Collider exhibition, which opens tomorrow.

In a packed press briefing, he told journalists that he could not explain why the discovery of the Higgs boson in particular had sparked people’s imagination, but the public did seem to have a new interest in fundamental physics.

He said: “A number of previous discoveries have been fundamental and I was quite worried at one time that the discovery of this particular particle was being overplayed, and that, I think, was not a good idea.” He had feared that it had overshadowed all of CERN’s other work, he said. Asked which question in physics he would like to see answered, he said that he hoped the experiments at the LHC would find out “whether there are supersymmetric particles beyond the Standard Model and whether these provide a candidate for dark matter in the universe”.

Asked how he visualised the Higgs boson, he said: “ I don’t visualise the Higgs boson – I never have. It is something to me that is just the by-product of formulating a particular theory. I don’t quite know what it means to visualise an elementary particle; you simply detect them and find evidence for them.”

Prof. Higgs was asked how close a lay person could get to understanding some of the fundamental concepts of particle physics. He said: “I think it takes a bit of effort on both sides. If I start to explain it to somebody with no background in physics I normally find that there are a lot of misconceptions to be overcome. Equally, it takes a lot of skill on the part of communicators.”

CERN’s director-general Prof. Rolf Heuer, the Science Museum’s curator of modern physics, Alison Boyle, and the museum’s director, Ian Blatchford, also spoke at the briefing. Blatchford said that the museum had worked in “incredibly close collaboration” with CERN on the exhibition, which he hoped would be seen as a major event in European cultural life, and was, he thought, the most imaginative of those put on by any of the world’s science museums.

Following the briefing, Prof. Higgs took part in a question and answer session with teenaged physics students. In the afternoon, Prof. Stephen Hawking joined Alison Boyle at the Science Museum to discuss the role of fundamental physics in understanding the universe, while novelist Ian McEwan and theoretical physicist Prof. Nima Arkani-Hamed discussed the connections between art and science.

Collider: step inside the world’s greatest experiment includes “meetings” with virtual scientists and engineers from CERN, real LHC artefacts and simulations that follow the journey of particle beams around the LHC tunnel. It will run from 13 November 2013 until 6 May 2014, and entries are timed, with tickets priced £10 for adults, £7 concessions.

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