Imperial College London

Professor Sir Tom Kibble shares his story with alumni


Professor Sir Tom Kibble

Professor Sir Tom Kibble

Over 120 alumni attended an exclusive Physics event to hear Professor Sir Tom Kibble talk about his role in the prediction of the Higgs Boson.

The Department of Physics welcomed a huge crowd of their alumni to an exclusive event featuring a talk by Professor Sir Tom Kibble CBE FRS on the theoretical ideas behind the prediction of the Higgs Boson, the elusive particle whose existence was finally confirmed at CERN in 2012.

Professor Lesley Cohen, who organised the event with Linda Jones, explains that the Department launched this inaugural lecture as a way to keep alumni informed about hot topic physics research. “We wanted to give alumni the opportunity to return, not just to the College, but to their own Department”  she adds.

Alumni were offered tea and cake in the Blackett Laboratory foyer (a trip down memory lane for many) followed by a champagne reception in the common room and the 8th floor roof terrace overlooking the West London skyline and the Royal Albert Hall.

“We were pleased to see how popular the event proved to be” says Lesley. “It was hugely oversubscribed and I think that all those that attended had a very memorable visit. Prof Sir Tom Kibble was extremely generous with his time. The talk was fantastic and it was a privilege to hear it.”

Particle predictions

The Higgs Boson story started in 1964 when three papers were published in Physical Review Letters, by François Englert and Robert Brout from Brussels; by Peter Higgs from Edinburgh; and by Tom Kibble together with two visiting American scientists, Gerald Guralnik and Carl Richard Hagen. 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.

The concept played a role in the development of the unified theory of weak and electromagnetic interactions, now an established part of the standard model of particle physics, a development for which the late Professor Abdus Salam of Imperial College shared the Nobel Prize with two Americans, Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg.

Watch Professor Tom Kibble in action at the event here:

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Awestruck fans

Alumnus Trivan Pal

Alumnus Trivan Pal (right)

The appeal of such a prestigious speaker was apparent as the event attracted a huge range of alumni from recent graduates through to those who were taught by Professor Kibble himself. One such alumnus, Trivan Pal (Physics 1975), recalls that as a student he was so awestruck that he couldn't make eye contact with the Professor.

“It was a rare privilege indeed to be able to hear from Professor Kibble himself, the ‘story’ of the work and anecdotes leading to the theoretical formulation and prediction of the so-called Higgs Boson. I even had an occasion to ask a question to Professor Kibble at the social event after the talk. For me, personally, participating as a member of the audience, ‘closed the loop’, as it were .”

Visiting the College for the first time in 39 years, Trivan got up to speed with changes on Campus by taking a walking tour, visiting the library and popping into the union shop for souvenirs of his visit. Immersing himself fully in the experience, he says he made sure to stop frequently at the different cafés to enjoy the atmosphere of life on campus again. No trip to the College would be complete without dropping in to the Alumni Visitor Centre where Trivan took some time to search online for fellow classmates. “I felt rather cosy there” he says.

It was the visit to his old Department, though, that brought back the most memories. “Walking into the main lecture theatre, where Sir Tom Kibble gave his talk, was exhilarating, and brought back memories of both pleasure (lectures) and fright (exams) from my days as an undergraduate.”

A familiar face

Linda Jones, Operations Manager for the Department, was a familiar face to alumni at the event, some of whom she has known for a number of years. Linda started working at Imperial in 1968 as a Junior Clerk supporting the undergraduate teaching office. “Things have changed over the years” she says, “but not the fact that so many students maintain fond memories of this Department.”

She sums up her impression of the event: “It was a pleasure to be part of an extremely enjoyable alumni event and I’m looking forward to the next one already!”



Jenn Rowater

Jenn Rowater

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