17th April 2024

Peter Higgs, professor of physics at the University of Edinburgh, died this last week. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013 for the discovery of a fundamental particle whose existence he had predicted fifty years earlier. I met Peter when I was a physics student at Edinburgh in the 1990s. He taught me general relativity and – if I remember correctly – quantum field theory. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and explain either in 270 words!

But this got me looking back to those student days and thinking about the way that physics is a thread that I can trace through my life. It began with one of the first books that I owned as a child – The Universe and the Earth – the subject of which is hopefully self-explanatory. Physics and maths became my favourite subjects at school, continuing through university and into my early career. Indeed, one of the books that still sits at the side of my desk today is Gravitation (a classic text on general relativity).

Another thread that I can trace through life is my Christian faith. That too I associate with one of the first books I owned – A Child’s Bible (although my abiding memory of that particular Bible is an illustration of a fat green devil with a pointy tail…). As I look back along this thread, I remember the people who have influenced me, the churches in which I have participated, the ideas that have inspired me. At its heart this thread has been one of looking towards Jesus – not always faithfully or consistently, but always the one to whom I return.

Ian Waddington