It is probably the most widely anticipated Nobel award ever made — even as the announcement on 8 October was delayed by an hour, it still seemed certain that the prize would be given for what is generally known as the Higgs mechanism, cemented by the discovery of a Higgs boson at CERN last year. The only uncertainty lay in quite who would claim a slice of the prize.

In 1964, François Englert and his colleague Robert Brout published a paper1 in Physical Review Letters in which they outlined a possible mechanism for the generation of particle masses. A few weeks later — in a world without e-mail or preprint servers — Peter Higgs published a similar, independent work2, and also mentioned the existence of a particle associated with the postulated field that would provoke the mass-generating mechanism. (These have since been known as the Higgs boson, the Higgs field and the Higgs mechanism.) And just a few weeks later still, Gerald Guralnik, Carl Hagen and Tom Kibble followed up with their own, independent, version3 of the same mechanism.

Traditionally, a Nobel prize is shared by no more than three people, and, although Robert Brout died in 2011, there were still five theorists with a claim to it. The Nobel Committee has made the award to Englert and Higgs, ostensibly as the first authors in print with their proposals of the mechanism and the boson.

The award of this Nobel links several vital pieces of the story of particle physics and the building of the standard model: Yoichiro Nambu's 1960 mathematics for spontaneous symmetry breaking (Nobel 2008); Steven Weinberg, Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow's 1967 unification of weak and electromagnetic interactions, with a Higgs mechanism for electroweak symmetry breaking (Nobel 1979); and Martinus Veltman and Gerardus't Hooft's 1972 renormalization of electroweak theory (Nobel 1999). Also of note was Philip Anderson's 1962 suggestion that symmetry breaking could be linked to the 'problem' of mass (Anderson took the Nobel in 1977 for his work in condensed–matter physics).

Alongside Englert and Higgs, the citation of the Nobel Committee acknowledges the role of CERN, the Large Hadron Collider and the experiments ATLAS and CMS in confirming the existence of "the predicted fundamental particle". It has taken the efforts of thousands of scientists and engineers over more than two decades to set up and perform the necessary experiments, in a remarkable feat of worldwide cooperation. There is no precedent for the award of the physics prize to an organization, but neither is there a rule against it. Alas, CERN's scientists have not earned a formal share of the prize, but few could deny that they deserve it.


The Nobel Prize in Physics 2013

 From Nature Physics

Editorial  We have it FREE History has been made with the discovery of a Higgs-like particle at CERN. Nature Phys. 8, 575–575 (2012). doi:10.1038/nphys2404

News and Views  Particle physics: A Higgs is a Higgs  Herbi Dreiner In the light of more data, the particle discovered at CERN last year is now confirmed to be a Higgs boson – but what kind of Higgs boson? And what might the discovery mean for theories that reach beyond the standard model? Nature Phys. 9, 268–269 (2012). doi:10.1038/nphys2619

Commentary  Eyes on a prize particle  Luis Álvarez-Gaumé & John Ellis The search for the Higgs boson could soon prove successful. Although the particle bears the name of a single physicist, many more were involved in devising the theory behind it– so which of them should share a potential Nobel Prize? Nature Phys. 7, 2–3 (2011). doi:10.1038/nphys1874

Books and Arts  A Scientific Saga  Tony Doyle reviews Beyond the God Particle by Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill Nature Phys. 9, 603 (2013). doi:10.1038/nphys2775

 From Nature:

Column: World View  Particle physics is at a turning point  The discovery of the Higgs boson will complete the standard model – but it could also point the way to a deeper understanding, says Gordon Kane. Nature 480, 415–415 (2011). doi:10.1038/480415a

Books and Arts  How the boson got Higgs's name  Frank Close reviews Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle by Ian Sample Nature 465, 873–874 (17 June 2010). doi:10.1038/465873a

Nature Insight: The Large Hadron Collider  Nature 448, 7151 (19 July 2007).

 Also in Nature Physics:

Commentary  Dig deeper  Paul Newman & Anna Stasto. Deep inelastic scattering – using a twenty-first-century electron–hadron collider of sufficient energy and intensity – could teach us much more about nuclear matter at the smallest resolvable scales, as well as add to our understanding of the Higgs boson and to the search for physics beyond the standard model. Nature Physics 9, 448–450 (2013). doi:10.1038/nphys2718

Editorial  Strategic thinking FREE Europe and the US, with their international partners, are planning their way ahead in particle physics. Nature Physics 9, 447–447 (2013). doi:10.1038/nphys2728

Editorial  Work in progress FREE Preparations for the construction of an international linear collider have reached another milestone – but is the way ahead clear? Nature Physics 9, 422, 1–1 (2013). doi:10.1038/nphys2538

Editorial  End of the line? FREE The Higgs boson is running out of places to hide. Nature Physics 7, 919–919 (2011). doi:10.1038/nphys2176