10 years Higgs: interview with Jos Engelen

‘I sat next to Peter Higgs’

Jos Engelen (r) with left of him Peter Higgs.

Jos Engelen, former Nikhef director, former CERN research director, NWO president at the time, professor emeritus

‘I sat, there are images of it, during the announcement on 4 July 2012 next to Peter Higgs in the large auditorium of CERN in Geneva. I only understood later that it was no coincidence, I had apparently been put there for a reason. But I have no idea why.

Prior to that moment, I had had daydreams about how we physicists would be up in arms when it turned out that our gargantuan efforts of an entire decade turned out to be a success. But when the discovery was announced I was pleased of course, and proud to belong to this community, but I also thought: what now? Where do we go from here?

At that time I was the chairman of the scientific organization NWO in The Hague, but I did not want to miss this moment in Geneva. I myself had not worked directly on the Higgs discovery. My name is not on the paper. But long before that I had been chairman of the LHC committee when the detectors were built. And later I was research director of CERN, when the accelerator came into use. So the machinery by which the particle was discovered.

The Higgs particle is as important as we thought ten years ago, and perhaps even more so, because it has to do with everything. At the same time, it also seems surprisingly simple. The simplest Higgs particle you can imagine if you want to give mass to the particle model. How is it possible.

My question to the Higgs particle, therefore, is mainly: are you really alone? With that knowledge we would have more direction in answering the open questions we have in physics. For example, what the hell is dark matter anyway. I would still like to experience that in my life: the discovery of dark matter. I still follow the subject for that reason alone. Although that is sometimes difficult when journals hide everything behind pay walls.’

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