‘For me, it was a kind of capstone’
‘As Nikhef director, I was of course at the announcement at Nikhef, but the best moment was later that day, when I went to get Chinese food in Almere. Another customer, a big guy, turned around and pointed at me and shouted “Higgs!” While we were waiting for our order, we had a good conversation about quantum mechanics. Fantastic, that man made my day. Plus of course the eight o’clock news and the newspapers the next morning.
My own contribution to the discovery was mainly the realization of the ATLAS detector years earlier, with substantial input from Nikhef. We built large parts of the muon detector, with everything on it, hardware, diagnostics, software, monitoring. Designing, making and testing, that’s my thing.
It’s funny, though, that once as a young postdoc I thought one evening in early 1990 that I could find the Higgs particle myself in the LEP luminosity data I was working on at the time. I was living near CERN at the time and excitedly I drove straight to CERN to see if I could find a Higgs peak. After an all-night analysis: unfortunately not. The real discovery of the Higgs particle was of course a thrill. It is an essential part of the Standard Model.
But for me, to be honest, the discovery was also a kind of capstone. This Higgs does turn out to be very, very, very much a Standard Higgs. I hope, of course, that there will come a time when they do find anomalies. But for me the fun was a little bit lost. Eventually I started doing something else. Gravitional waves, that is. The construction of the Einstein Telescope, hopefully in South Limburg or somewhere else. We can answer new questions with that.
My question to the Higgs particle could be anything. Does God exist? Can you arrange a dinner for me and my wife with Julia Roberts and George Clooney? Or more in physics: how can the universe be infinitely large if the Higgs field contains as much energy as the theory claims?’
This interview was originally published in Nikhef magazine DIMENSIES #7