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At UNC-Chapel Hill in 1965, the concept of what is now called the Higgs boson matured in the mind of Peter Higgs, who was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Before Higgs left the University of Edinburgh for a year of research at UNC’s Bahnson Institute of Field Physics, he published two short papers on what is known as the Higgs mechanism, the idea that a background field permeating all matter was responsible for mass.

He was just warming up, Carolina professor of physics Jack Ng says.

At UNC, Higgs put a revolutionary idea to paper: A sub-atomic elementary particle, a boson, was somehow involved with this mechanism. Ng said a handful of other physicists theorized about a similar kind of mechanism, but not one explicitly proposed a massive particle associated with the field imparting mass to the different particles, giving matter mass.

“Higgs is the only one who said it, and he said it right here in Chapel Hill,” Ng says.

While an electron (a fermion) carries charge and a photon (a boson) transmits light, no particle has ever been associated with generating mass. While doing research at UNC in 1965, Higgs theorized about a boson for mass, but no one could prove it.

This explains why on July 4 social networks, news channels and physics enthusiasts erupted in celebration when the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the discovery of what was probably the Higgs boson, a never-before proven particle that explains why matter has mass.

Higgs shared the Nobel Prize with François Englert of the University Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium..

Read more about Higgs and about Ng’s research.

Published July 23, 2012. Updated October 8, 2013.