10 years Higgs: interview with Stan Bentvelsen

‘It was a door that opened’

Stan Bentvelsen, Nikhef director, at the time ATLAS programme leader at Nikhef

‘I had just returned to Nikhef on 4 July 2012 from a meeting in Sicily with Peter Higgs, for the film Jan van den Berg made about him and the search for the Higgs particle. Of course I knew by then that we had found the Higgs, but I wasn’t allowed to say anything about it yet, not even to Peter. That was rather uncomfortable. In the film it seems that I do show him something. But that was show. It was old data and I didn’t even have the impression that Peter found it very interesting.

I remember that Higgs got a call from CERN at lunch that day. That he really had to come to Geneva on July 4. He didn’t feel like it, he was tired. I insisted: you must do it, and he went. On the images of the announcement at CERN you can see Higgs in the audience, wiping away a tear when the big word was spoken. Together with Englert.

That day was definitely a highlight for Nikhef, with a room full of excited colleagues, applause, press, lots of interviews. Cameras and microphones everywhere. A day when physics was world news. Wonderful to be able to experience.

We had built our ATLAS experiment at CERN primarily to discover the Higgs particle and when that actually succeeded, it was as if a door had opened. A door to a new room in physics, where we had never looked around before.

It was super exciting, especially because before that time not everyone was convinced of Higgs’ rather daring idea that an unknown new field gives all particles mass. So there was something at stake. But that’s really how it works, and in the ten years since then we have already learned an enormous amount about the Higgs particle that seems to play a central role in the particle world. And I certainly expect much more.’

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