“Personality change, panic attack”

Helen Rumbelow wrote in The Times of 6.7.12:

“One moment, Peter Higgs was driving along the East Coast of America with his wife, Jody, and their six-month-old baby son Christopher strapped in the back seat; the next, his heart was racing and his breathing was completely out of control. Frightened he would kill his wife and child in a crash, Higgs had to pull over and stop the car while his wife talked him down, exhaling deep lungfuls over the steering wheel.

What had caused such a panic attack? For most 37-year-old men, the key to happiness was right there beside him: it was the sixties, he was on a road trip across America in spring, he had a baby and a loving wife. But Higgs wasn’t most men — he would turn out to be the scientist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle” believed to have been discovered yesterday in Switzerland. This vindicates the theories of a man who sought to understand how the universe worked.

And his fear sitting in that car in March 1966 was that his life’s work was a load of rubbish.

But fast-forward half a century, to Higgs, 83, the old man waiting in the front row of the press conference at the CERN collider yesterday, frail, with two hearing aids. This was a man whose prize was hard won, a man who had made a choice. As he puts it, “I put my science career before my family”, and in his later years the memory of that cost still moved him to tears.

Essentially, Higgs was the man who chose his particle over his wife. The simple idea underlying his work is that particles acquire mass as they move through a field, slowing down. As a metaphor it’s true of all of our lives, in a way, weighed down by relationships and history. But not quite Higgs — he became lighter and more solitary the more he aged…

In August 1965, Higgs took a year’s sabbatical. Jody was heavily pregnant and he got a job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Jody went back to her family home in Urbana, Illinois, so she could have the baby with her parents’ help. As (Ian) Sample recalls in his book, Higgs was in the university library when he was called to the phone: his wife had had their firstborn, hundreds of miles away. The paper Higgs was working on that day was, coincidentally, about a critical moment in the birth of the universe…

…fame put a new stress on family life.

“One time I backed out of a family holiday.… I got on a plane and went to a conference,” Higgs said in an interview in 2008. “Jody just lost touch with what I was doing.”

A few years after the birth of their second son, Jody had enough. But far from liberating him to work harder, the divorce cost him the stability that had underpinned his discoveries. He lost momentum. “After the break-up of my marriage, I think I just lost touch with the things I should have been learning about just to follow up on my own work. I couldn’t keep up,” Higgs has said.

Later, Higgs decided to give up chasing glory and devoted himself more to teaching. Jody stayed in Edinburgh and the pair remained friends and loyal grandparents. But his flat in Edinburgh’s New Town is, as some joked, a “bubble in the space time continuum”, a place where the furnishings stopped at roughly the moment his wife left him in the early 1970s…”

From Press Association report of Mon 17 Feb 2014:

“…Higgs also talks frankly about his marriage to Jody Williamson, an American linguist in 1972. “When my wife and I got married, she thought of me being an easygoing person and I warned her I wasn’t.

“I was easygoing in terms of being adaptable in my social life. But maybe I suffered a personality change in the mid-60s and became more dedicated to things involving work because it had become successful in some way.”

After the publication of the Standard Model, Higgs admits he was left behind as the field continued to develop.

He shot from obscurity to fame after the Higgs boson discovery and last year shared the Nobel prize with Belgian François Englert.

Higgs added that he believes a third scientist should have shared the Nobel prize, theoretical physicist Prof Tom Kibble, from Imperial College London, who also worked on the Higgs boson.”

From Wikipedia:

“Higgs is an atheist. He has described Richard Dawkins as having adopted a “fundamentalist” view of non-atheists. Higgs expressed later that he was displeased that the Higgs particle is nicknamed the “God particle”, as he believes the term “might offend people who are religious”. Usually this nickname for the Higgs boson is attributed to Leon Lederman, the author of the book “The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?”, but the name is the result of the suggestion of Lederman’s publisher: Lederman had originally intended to refer to it as the “goddamn particle”.”

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