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Nobel Prize winner in Physics 2013 Prof. François Englert gave a Public Lecture at UR-CST

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On Friday the 31st March 2017 a public talk was held at the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology and hosted a highly profiled eminent scientist who was awarded with a Nobel prize of 2013. François Englert and Peter W. Higgs were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 for the theory of how particles acquire mass. They proposed the theory independently of each other (Englert together with his now deceased colleague Robert Brout).

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In 2012, their ideas were confirmed by the discovery of a so called Higgs particle at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva in Switzerland. His presentation at UR centered mainly on the universe and cosmology. In the fully parked auditorium, students from both high school and university closely followed the legend’s experiences, and had a question and answer session after the presentation to clear their doubts. Also in attendance were the UR senior management, VC, DVC-AAR, DVC-IA, academicians, researchers and senior government officials.

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A brief about his life and career

According to modern physics, matter consists of a set of particles that act as building blocks. Between these particles lie forces that are mediated by another set of particles. A fundamental property of the majority of particles is that they have a mass. Independently of one another, in 1964 both Peter Higgs and the team of François Englert and Robert Brout proposed a theory about the existence of a particle that explains why other particles have a mass. In 2012, two experiments conducted at the CERN laboratory confirmed the existence of the Higgs particle.

François Englert was born on 6th November 1932, Etterbeek, Belgium. His family was of Jewish origin and during the German occupation of Belgium during World War II, he concealed his Jewish roots and hid at different orphanages. He was first educated as an electrical-mechanical engineer and later received his Ph.D. in physics in 1959 from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. After spending two years at Cornell University in the U.S., François Englert returned to Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he has continued his work. François Englert is married with five children.

His parents emigrated from Poland in 1924 with His brother, who was a few months old. They were from a simple family of Polish Jews. They were looking for a better economic life and were escaping from an anti-Semitic environment. They worked hard, set up a textile shop and managed to reach a rather decent life when in May 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, less than one year after the invasion of Poland. He was seven years old and quite aware of the situation. Persecution came gradually. After two years of relatively normal life, In his own interview he “says I was compelled to wear, as all Jews who could not hide their identity, the distinctive Star of David”. A few months later, the Nazis started the deportation of Jews to concentration camps where they were murdered.

His parents, his brother and himself survived the war in Belgium. They were helped and hidden by people who did not even know them, people who in those times of darkness took the great risk of displaying generosity, humanity and courage.

After the war, he attempted and largely succeeded in resuming a normal life. He went to secondary school and, while memories of past years still haunted the nightmares of his sleep, he functioned well at school. He developed an interest in literature, music and mathematics. His teacher of mathematics, whom he deeply appreciates, recommended studies in polytechnics for its extended program in mathematics at the University. His parents also pushed him in the same direction, out of concern about his future well-being. So in 1955 he got his degree in electrical-mechanical engineering. He realized however that his interest was less in practical applications than in the understanding of the underlying theoretical structure and he decided to learn physics. As an assistant in the polytechnic department, He was able to finance new studies and got his Physics Masters Degree in 1958 and his PhD in 1959.

He had discovered a passion for research and was thrilled when the same year, based on recommendations and a few previous publications in Condensed Matter Physics, He was offered a two-year position in the United States at Cornell University, Ithaca (NY), as Research Associate.

Story by:

Eric Mugisha

UR-Corporate Communications Office.

 

 
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