Edinburgh University to offer Higgs boson course

Interviews with Professor Peter Higgs will feature in the online course. Picture: Jane Barlow
Interviews with Professor Peter Higgs will feature in the online course. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A SCOTTISH university is offering a free course for students who want to discover more about the ‘god particle.’

Edinburgh University has developed the online course, which anyone around the world can join, to study the work of particle physicist Professor Peter Higgs.

The seven-week course, entitled The Discovery of the Higgs boson, describes the scientific advancements that have led to the building of the Large Hadron Collider, in Switzerland, and to the detection of the boson.

The course will feature interviews with Professor Higgs, 84, and filmed lectures by a team of world-class physicists at the University of Edinburgh. Students can then debate what they have seen using dedicated online discussion spaces, as well as via social media.

The University of Edinburgh is offering the course as its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) via the FutureLearn platform, a partnership of 23 leading universities, together with the British Museum, British Council and British Library, which gives learners the opportunity to access high quality courses for free.

The University of Edinburgh has pioneered online learning and was the first university in the UK to offer MOOCs via the Coursera platform. Coursera is a partnership of international universities which offers higher-education standard learning opportunities to all. More than 300,000 learners benefitted from Edinburgh’s MOOCs in 2013.

Professor Arthur Trew, Head of School for Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, said today: “I am very pleased that Peter’s incredible work will now be available to a worldwide audience of learners to analyse and discuss.

“Peter’s research has provided us with profound insight into the building blocks of the Universe and this course will allow anyone with a computer and access to the web to take part in the exciting and revolutionary times that we live in.”

Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal of the University of Edinburgh said: “The Higgs MOOC offers a hugely exciting opportunity for learners to experience university-standard courses, at no cost to themselves.

“Over the next 12 months, we will be announcing details of more than a dozen MOOCs, across a range of subjects, reinforcing Edinburgh’s position as a world-leader in online learning.”

The Higgs boson, also known as the god particle, was first theorised in 1964 by Peter Higgs at Edinburgh University.

According to Higgs an invisible energy field fills the vacuum of space throughout the universe. When some particles move through the field they feel drag and gain weight as a result. Others, such as particles of light, or photons, feel no drag at all and remain massless.

Without the field - or something to do its job - all fundamental particles would weigh nothing and hurtle around at the speed of light. That would spell disaster for the formation of atoms in the early universe and rule out life as we know it.

The particle was discovered by physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider which fires particles around at high speeds causing them to smash into each other.


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