PROFESSOR Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University may now stand as a scientific legend alongside the likes of Newton, Oppenheimer and Einstein.

But the Noble laureate-in-waiting is far from the only Scottish scientist behind one of the greatest achievements in physics in the last century: the discovery last week of the elusive Higgs boson – the God particle. Although Higgs proposed the theory of the particle nearly 50 years ago, behind the scenes, dozens of physicists from Scotland played a vital role in the experiments which led to the identification of the Higgs boson – a particle which holds the key to explaining how matter attains its mass, and how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

The discovery awaits full endorsement from the scientific community.

Around 50 academics, researchers, technicians and postgraduate students from both Glasgow and Edinburgh universities were part of the Atlas experiment team at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Cern, Switzerland, which announced the breakthrough on Wednesday.

Here we talk to some of those Scottish scientists about their work on the Atlas experiment and their thoughts on the significance of the likely discovery of the Higgs Boson particle.


Robson, 32, is a lecturer in physics at Glasgow University and first started working on the Atlas project when he was a student.

He analyses data from Atlas – an essential part of proving a discovery is bona fide.

Robson said finding the new particle was a "huge milestone". While the world is celebrating the achievement, scientists are a lot more reserved. The discovery is yet to be fully signed-off in scientific terms, and it is Robson's role to make sure it is.

He said: "We have discovered a new particle, but have really still to show that it is a Higgs boson. First of all the challenge is to collect a lot more of these particles, so we can make really precise measurements and see whether the particle does have the properties that the theory predicts – or whether it is actually something a bit more exotic."

Robson said the "scientific quest" had produced huge benefits along the way, including hopefully encouraging more young people into physics. He said: "Along the way to discovering [the Higgs boson] we have had to overcome all sorts of technological hurdles and that is what has the real effect on everyday life. Whether it is detectors with medical or security applications, or touch screens – which were first made at Cern to control the accelerators – all these 'by-products' do have a huge effect on everyday life.

"Students coming in to study physics at university say it's the big science, the particle physics and the astronomy that really excites them. I hope they will see that we are making huge advances in our knowledge in particle physics and it is an exciting time to be doing it."


Martin, 38, is a lecturer in particle physics, involved in experiments at Cern and a former student of Higgs.

She co-leads the team in Edinburgh University which has been involved in analysing the data collected in the Atlas experiment to search for signs of the Higgs boson.

She said: "This is a fantastic moment. So many people have worked on it for so long. There is a phrase – we have only seen further because we were standing on the shoulders of giants – and it really feels like that."

As an undergraduate student Martin was lectured by Higgs and remembers him as being a "tough, no-nonsense" but inspirational teacher.

She said that to her there were as yet no apparent practical consequences as a result the discovery of the Higgs boson particle but pointed out there had been huge benefits as a result of the building of the experiment.

She said: "For scientists it is really exciting to complete this picture in their head, but on the way to building the LHC and running it and operating it, there has been so many technological spin-offs which the public use nowadays.

"The most common one is the world wide web, which everybody uses, but was invented as a tool for physicists at Cern to communicate with each other."

Martin said another recent development was improved solar panels, based on new vacuum technology created to extract air particles in the LHC. She said: "These have been installed on the roof of Geneva airport and they are much more efficient than the solar panels that had been developed up until then."


Doyle, 49, Cern associate from Glasgow University, is in charge of the publications from the Atlas experiment.

He is currently working on submitting the results of the discovery of the Higgs boson to journal Physics Letter B, which will be published at the end of July.

Doyle said scientists from Glasgow University had been involved in the hunt for the Higgs boson particle for around 20 years, with the current team involving 35 people – a relatively large group.

He said: "Within the collaboration there are 3,000 [researchers] at 175 institutes worldwide, so it is an average number of 15 or so in a team.

"Our group is more than double the size of the average group. It is because we have been working on lots of elements and we have led the way in which all the data is analysed and distributed all over the world."

Doyle was at the seminar last Wednesday when the results were announced and said it was unlike any previous scientific event he had attended.

"It was like a rock concert, everyone was queuing up," he said. "Not everyone could fit into the auditorium, as there are thousands of people here. So there were different rooms which were being used around Cern to show it."

Doyle likened the process of searching for the Higgs boson to the space mission which was a test run for Apollo 11's successful moon landing.

He added: "My analogy is that last year was like Apollo 10, where we developed the technologies that we required. Now the eagle has landed."


Clark, 38, is reader in physics at Edinburgh University, another former student of Higgs and a key scientist on the Atlas project at Cern.

He also played a key role in the development of a computer system called Scotgrid, a joint enterprise along with the universities of Glasgow and Durham, which enables vast quantities of data from the experiments to be sent around the world to researchers.

He said: "All the computers around the world are hooked up to the experiment software. We run continually about 120,000 computer programmes across the world to simulate the particles that are produced at the LHC and also to analyse the data."

Clark said it was difficult to predict the future potential of the Higgs boson discovery, but pointed out the implications of great scientific breakthroughs in the past had been similarly unknown.

He said: "It just gives us so much more understanding of the fundamental particle interactions, and how they actually come about.

"To relate that to everyday life is really quite difficult and it could be very far into the future when we find there is something we haven't thought of.

"For example, when the electron was discovered, we didn't think about the whole internet revolution that is completely dependent upon the electron 100 years later.

Of the Higg's boson's significance he said: "I think I would liken [this discovery] to finally understanding the DNA mechanism, in that the scientific achievement is of similar scale."



St Denis, 52, senior lecturer in experimental particle physics at Glasgow University, has been involved in the project since 1991, when he helped to design what would eventually become the Atlas experiment.

He said it was difficult to envisage the application of such scientific theories, but pointed out they often had an impact on everyday life.

He said: "Einstein's theory of relativity is one you might have thought was a bit of an esoteric thing – what could that have to do with my life?

"The answer is in your cellphone and your satnav. Your position locator will not work without it as if you tried to do the calculations without general relativity it wouldn't find you."

St Denis said the discovery of the Higgs boson had triggered discussion and excitement equivalent to the first moon landing.

"The way to describe this is that it is like the Lord of the Rings – one particle shall rule them all," he said.

He said the importance of the Higgs boson discovery was comparable to the work of Sir Isaac Newton, who "made sense out of complete chaos and explained how planets move and at the same time explained how an apple fell. I think that is the level we are at with this."

Although the Higgs boson has been nicknamed the "God particle", because of its fundamental role in answering questions about the creation of the universe, St Denis said its discovery would not impact on anyone's religious beliefs, adding: "It strikes me as a term that was invented to be a little devilish."


Buttar, 49, is group leader of the Atlas project at Glasgow University and a reader in the university's school of physics and astronomy.

He started working on the Atlas project in around 1990, helping to build the experiment and develop a "tracker" at the centre of the Atlas detector to collect data and find the particle.

Buttar said the discovery of the particle which appears to be the Higgs boson could be the "last part of the jigsaw".

"One of the critical things is going to be to start looking at this and to check it is a Higgs," he said.

"The chances are it is a Higgs, but science has got to be more rigorous than that and we have got to go and do the measurements. That is going to take a while." Buttar pointed out that the search for the Higgs boson was not the only purpose of the LHC, which is going to be shut down next year to allow final repairs to be carried out following an accident four years ago.

A fault caused helium to leak into the tunnel that houses the collider, just nine days after it was switched on in September 2008.

Buttar said: "We have found the Higgs – that was definitely the main target – and in the next few years we have got to confirm it is the Higgs and what its properties are.

"The LHC will shut down next year and they are going to do the final repairs – when it comes back on its energy will have doubled.

"That will give us approximately double the reach in terms of looking for new phenomena."

He added: "It is a bit like a telescope – the Higgs is one of the big name items we are after, but there are many, many things going on at the same time."


Professor Peter Higgs, 83, came up with his theory while working as a researcher at Edinburgh University.

An honorary Scot, he was born in Newcastle and graduated with a first-class honours degree in physics from King's College London.

He moved to Edinburgh in 1960 to lecture in mathematical physics – a city which he had grown to love after once hitch-hiking to the Edinburgh Festival.

The scientist hit upon the concept of the Higgs boson while walking in the Cairngorms in 1964 and returned to his lab declaring he had had his "one big idea".

That moment has led to numerous accolades and he is now in line to win the Nobel prize.

But he has spoken of the toll his search to understand the building blocks of the universe has taken, with the stress of his work leading to the breakdown of his marriage to American wife, Jodie, in 1972.

He has previously said: "We split up because I had put my science career above the family. I backed out of a family holiday when we were meant to be going to America. Then I got on a plane and went to a conference."

The notoriously shy professor retired in 1996 and became emeritus professor of physics at Edinburgh University.

He lives in the capital's New Town and doesn't have a television or use a computer – someone else checks his email for him – and rarely answers the phone.

In typically unassuming manner, when asked about his reaction to the discovery which is likely to confirm his life's work, his answer was: "It's very nice to be right sometimes."