Speakers


Francois Englert

Nobel Prize in Physics

2013

Everything, from people to stars to planets, consists of just a few building blocks called matter particles, according to the Standard Model of particle physics which describes how the world is constructed. In the 1960s, Professor François Englert was one of three scientists who developed a theory that is a central part of the model.

Professor Englert and his research partner, Professor Robert Brout, as well as Professor Peter Higgs, who worked independently of the two scientists, proposed that a ghost-like field suffusing space is responsible for the mass and diversity of the particles in the universe. 

“Even if space were to be emptied completely, it would still be filled by this field. We do not notice it; the field is like air to us, like water to fish. But without it, we would not exist, because particles acquire mass only in contact with the field,” explained the Nobel Prize committee in 2013, when it decided to award that year’s Nobel Prize in Physics to Professor Englert and Professor Higgs. Professor Brout had passed away by then. 

The committee continued: “Particles that do not pay attention to the field do not acquire mass, those that interact weakly become light, and those that interact intensely become heavy. Electrons, which acquire mass from the field, play a crucial role in the creation and holding together of atoms and molecules. If the field suddenly disappeared, all matter would collapse.”

Professor Englert’s and the other scientists’ work was proven correct in 2012, when researchers confirmed the existence of a particle, called the Brout-Englert-Higgs boson, that was part of the theory. That verification involved building the largest and most sophisticated machine in humanity’s history: the Large Hadron Collider, which is so big that it is partly in Switzerland and partly in France. 

Over the years, Professor Englert has also contributed to a wide variety of scientific fields, from statistical physics to quantum field theory, cosmology, string theory and supergravity. He is now Professor Emeritus at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium, one of the most important universities in the country. 

For his achievements, he has been awarded the Prince of Asturias Award For Technical and Scientific Research, the Wolf Foundation Prize in Physics, the J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Physics, the European Physical Society Prize, the First Award of the Gravity Foundation and other honours, aside from the Nobel Prize. He was also made a baron in 2013 by the then-King Albert II of Belgium.