Imperial College London

Tom Kibble, biography of the man who has made profound contributions to physics


Tom Kibble

An eminent theoretical physicist, Kibble is best known for work in the '60s leading to the concept of a mass-giving particle now called a Higgs boson.

Thomas Walter Bannerman (Tom) Kibble was born in 1932 in Madras, India. He attended school in Edinburgh and graduated from the University of Edinburgh (MA 1955, BSc 1956, PhD 1958), and joined the Department of Physics at Imperial as a Nato Fellow in 1959.

In 1964, Professor Kibble wrote "Global conservation laws and massless particles" in collaboration with two American scientists - National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow Gerald Guralnik, and Richard Hagen from the University of Rochester, New York.

This work, along with a 1967 paper written by Kibble alone, led to the concept of a mass-giving particle now known as the Higgs boson, and proved a key feature of the standard model of particle physics. For some time he was a member of the research group led by the late Professor Abdus Salam, who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics with Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg.

In 1970 Kibble became Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial, and held the position of head of the Department of Physics from 1983 to 1991.

In 1980, aged just 48, Kibble was admitted to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, a prestigious honour bestowed by the UK's national scientific academy, where he would later serve as Vice-President from 1988-89. In 1998 he received the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) medal in the Queen's Birthday Honours, in recognition of his services to Physics.

In June 2008 Professor Kibble's seminal research paper was selected as one of the most important papers of the last 50 years by the leading journal Physical Review Letters. This paper is considered one of the theoretical works that has shaped particle physics through the 20th Century.

In 2009 Professor Kibble was jointly awarded the 2010 J.J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics – one of the most prestigious international prizes in physics - along with the five other leading scientists credited with the Higgs theory.

Professor Kibble was granted Fellowship of Imperial College at a ceremony in the Royal Albert Hall in 2009. In 2012 the Royal Society awarded Professor Kibble the Royal Medal, one of its premier awards that are only awarded to three scientists each year.

Professor Kibble, who is very much still active at Imperial, recently celebrated his 80th birthday, which was marked by the College on 13 March 2013 with a symposium day, then evening public lecture with Professor Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin. Professor Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate for work on the interactions of fundamental forces, is Kibble's friend and one-time Colleague at Imperial.

During 2013, Professor Kibble became one of four new honorary fellows of the Institute of Physics, and received the Dirac Medal - named after Paul Dirac, 'one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century' - which is given to scientists who have made significant contributions to theoretical physics.

He currently holds the position of Emeritus Professor of Physics at Imperial College London, with continuing research interests in quantum field theory, especially the interface between high-energy particle physics and cosmology.

A full biography can be found at the Academia Europaea website.


Simon Levey

Simon Levey
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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