Peter Higgs receives world’s oldest scientific prize

20 July 2015

Professor Peter Higgs CH FRS has joined the ranks of Charles Darwin, Humphry Davy and Albert Einstein by winning the world’s oldest scientific prize, the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, for his work on the theory of the Higgs boson, discovered at the Large Hadron Collider in 2012.

Higgs receives the Copley Medal for his fundamental contribution to particle physics with his theory explaining the origin of mass in elementary particles, confirmed by the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.

The Copley medal was first awarded by the Royal Society in 1731, 170 years before the first Nobel Prize. It is awarded for outstanding achievements in scientific research and has most recently been awarded to eminent scientists such as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, DNA fingerprinting pioneer Alec Jeffreys and Andre Geim, for his discovery of graphene.

Modern physics suggests that matter consists of a set of particles that act as building blocks and that between these particles lie forces that are controlled by another set of particles. A fundamental property of the majority of particles is that they have a mass.

In 1964, Peter Higgs proposed a theory about the existence of a particle that explains why these other particles have a mass. At the same time, yet separately, François Englert and Robert Brout proposed the same theory. The existence of the Higgs boson was confirmed by two experiments carried out at the Large Hadron Collider in 2012. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 was awarded jointly to Peter Higgs and François Englert.

As well as the Copley Medal, the Royal Society has today announced all of the recipients of its awards, medals and prize lectures. The scientists receive the awards in recognition of their achievements in a wide variety of fields of research.

Commenting on his receipt of the Copley Medal, Professor Peter Higgs CH FRS, said:

“It is an honour to be the recipient this year of the Copley Medal, the Royal Society’s premier award.”

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, said:

“Peter Higgs is a most deserving winner of the Copley Medal. I congratulate him. His work, alongside that of François Englert, has helped shape our fundamental understanding of the world around us. The search for the Higgs boson completely ignited the public’s imagination, hopefully inspiring the next generation of scientists. The Copley Medal is the highest honour the Royal Society can give a scientist and Peter Higgs joins the ranks of the world’s greatest ever scientists.”

The winners of the following Royal Society Medals and Awards are announced today:

Premier Awards

Copley Medal

Professor Peter Higgs CH FRS for his fundamental contribution to particle physics with his theory explaining the origin of mass in elementary particles, confirmed by the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.

Royal Medals

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS for her pivotal contribution in observing, analysing & understanding pulsars, one of the most important astronomical discoveries of the 20th century.

Professor Elizabeth Blackburn AC FRS for her work on the prediction and discovery of telomerase and the role of telomeres in protecting and maintaining the genome.

Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith FRS for his major contributions to the development of the Standard Model, particularly his success in making the case for the building of the Large Hadron Collider.

Croonian Medal and Lecture

Professor Enrico Coen CBE FRS for his work resulting in a new theoretical and experimental foundation for understanding how the shapes of biological structures arise through development and evolution

Bakerian Medal and Lecture

Professor Andrea Ghez for her acclaimed discoveries using the techniques of optical astronomy, especially her sustained work on the motions and nature of the stars orbiting the black hole in the centre of our Galaxy



Davy Medal

Professor Gideon Davies FMedSci FRS for his field-defining work in determining the reaction chemistry of enzyme-catalysed carbohydrate transformations with major applications in medicine and biotechnology.

Buchanan Medal

Professor Irwin McLean FMedSci FRS for his major contribution to our understanding of the genetic basis of heritable skin diseases.

Hughes Medal

Professor George Efstathiou FRS for many outstanding contributions to our understanding of the early Universe, in particular his pioneering computer simulations, observations of galaxy clustering and studies of the fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background.

Gabor Medal

Professor Benjamin Simons for his work analysing stem cell lineages in development, tissue homeostasis and cancer, revolutionising our understanding of stem cell behaviour in vivo.

Prize lectures

Clifford Paterson Medal and Lecture

Professor Russell Cowburn FRS for his remarkable academic, technical and commercial achievements in nano-magnetics.

GlaxoSmithKline Prize and Lecture

Professor Andrew Hattersley FRS for his work on genetic and physiological studies of patients with common subtypes of monogenic diabetes revolutionising treatment for these patients.

Michael Faraday Prize and Lecture

Professor Katherine Willis for her excellent work in science communication.

Rosalind Franklin Award

Professor Lucy Carpenter for her scientific achievement, her suitability as a role model and her project proposal to promote women in STEM.

Francis Crick Medal and Lecture

Dr Madan Babu Mohan for his major and widespread contributions to computational biology.

Milner Award 2015

Professor Thomas Henzinger for fundamental advances in the theory and practice of formal verification and synthesis of reactive, real-time, and hybrid computer systems.

Milner Award 2016

Dr Xavier Leroy in recognition of his exceptional achievements in computer programming which includes the design and implementation of the OCaml programming language.



Pfizer Advanced Award

Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum for his seminal work on viral haemorrhagic fevers, including Ebola, generating the foundation of our understanding of the epidemiology, clinical manifestations and control of outbreaks of these viral infections.

Pfizer Early Career Award

Dr Gordon Awandare for his achievements in molecular and cellular studies of malaria, including how malaria parasites invade red blood cells and cause disease.