Nobel Prize winner visits Plockton

Nobel Prize winner Professor Peter Higgs was in Plockton this week to help enthuse the next generation of physicists.

At an event in the high school on Tuesday, Prof Higgs — who was awarded the Nobel for physics last year for his 1964 proposal of an elementary force-carrying particle, the Higgs Boson — was on hand to address Higher and Advanced Higher physics pupils from all over the Highlands who had come to hear him. Equipment and displays were also used to enlighten the pupils.

On the Monday evening, Prof Higgs, together with colleagues Alan Walker and Victoria Martin of Edinburgh University’s school of physics and astronomy, gave a talk on the history of particle physics from Edinburgh-born James Clerk Maxwell in the 19th century right up to Higgs himself.

Mr Walker said the discovery of the Higgs Boson by the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva in Switzerland marked the “closing of a chapter” in the discipline rather than the book. When the LHC restarts after its upgrade next year, it should be able to help in the search for the origins of the elusive “dark matter”, which cannot be directly observed but which is thought to account for over 80 per cent of the total matter in the universe.

Dr Martin — who had just got off the train to attend Monday night’s talk — works at the LHC. She explained how the collider accelerates two beams of protons (subatomic particles) to near light-speed then smashes them together 25 million times per second. The resultant collision signatures confirmed the presence of the Higgs Boson, which only exists for a tiny fraction of a second before disappearing, although they are still checking the results to make absolutely sure that the Higgs Boson has been found, she said.

On Wednesday, Prof Higgs and Mr Walker visited Plockton Primary School, where pupils from Lochcarron and Glenelg were also in attendance.

Prof Higgs was invited to Plockton by his friend Jane Mackenzie, who used to work at CERN — the research organisation that built the Large Hadron Collider — as head of the UK liaison office. The professor visits the Highlands, usually Skye, every year along with his family.

Pictured along with Prof Higgs are physics teacher Kirsty MacKenzie and Plockton pupils