Professor's visit thrills his old school
IT was seeing the name of Nobel prize winner Paul Dirac on the honours boards at Cotham Grammar School during the Second World War that ignited Peter Higgs's interest in physics.
Seven decades on, Professor Higgs returned to his old school to inspire the next generation of scientists.
Pupils were thrilled to meet the man whose life's work has been dedicated to helping us understand how the universe works.
Peter Higgs came up with a theory in 1964, while working at the University of Edinburgh, about a particle – or boson – that might explain why particles have mass or energy.
This came to be known as the Higgs Boson and is also sometimes described as the God particle.
Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) believe they are now close to confirming the existence of the elusive particle.
Professor Higgs talked to students at Cotham School about his theories and how they shaped his career.
A quiet, unassuming man, he quickly became animated as he spoke about his subject.
Among his audience was 17-year-old A-level physics student Nicola Papstavrou Brooks, who had baked cakes for the professor bearing the symbols of elementary particles.
She said: "It was really cool to meet him. He is so knowledgeable."
Teenagers queued up to shake the hand of the professor and a nuclear physics class clapped and cheered.
Staff were equally star-struck, with several seeking autographs and asking Professor Higgs to sign books, including Graham Farmelo's 2009 Costa Prize-winning biography The Strangest Man: The Life of Paul Dirac.
Teachers and pupils later attended a Bristol Festival of Ideas event involving Professor Higgs and Mr Farmelo last night.
At the school Professor Higgs unveiled a plaque naming the new science block The Dirac-Higgs Science Centre, after the two eminent old boys.
Head teacher Malcolm Willis said it was an honour to welcome Professor Higgs back to the school he left in 1946.
Dirac, who attended the Merchant Venturers' Technical College, which later became Cotham school, co-discovered quantum mechanics.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1933.
Professor Higgs told students: "I feel pretty honoured at being bracketed with Paul Dirac. He is a much more eminent theoretical physicist than I am. I am not in the same league."