Two of the giants of modern physics were educated in Bristol’s schools. Paul Dirac, who co-discovered quantum mechanics and predicted the existence of anti-matter, always regarded the excellent education he was given in Bristol – in physics, mathematics and engineering – as crucial to his career. Dirac’s success inspired the young Peter Higgs, who attended Cotham school, and later predicted the particle now named after him and the subject of worldwide attention. Graham Farmelo, author of The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac is in discussion with Peter Higgs and Robin McKie, science editor of the Observer.
In the 1960s Peter Higgs put forward the idea of the existence of the Higgs boson particle – sometimes called the God particle – which might explain why particles have mass or energy. The Large Hadron Collider in CERN is currently searching for this. Higgs was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but grew up in Bristol, where his father worked as a BBC sound engineer. In 1997 Higgs was awarded the Dirac Medal and Prize for outstanding contribution to theoretical physics by the Institute of Physics. Much of his career was spent at the University of Edinburgh which he first joined in 1954. He retired in 1996, becoming Professor Emeritus.
Graham Farmelo is Senior Research Fellow at the Science Museum, London, and Adjunct Professor of Physics at Northeastern University, Boston, USA. He edited the bestselling It Must be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science in 2002. His biography of Paul Dirac, The Strangest Man, won the 2009 Costa Biography Prize and the 2010 Los Angeles Times Science Book Prize.
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