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The Daily Tar Heel

Famous scientist given honorary UNC degree in Scotland

Higgs, a 2013 Nobel Prize winner for his work in physics and elementary particles, was given an honorary degree from the Committee of Honorary Degrees and Special Awards earlier this month. Higgs first crafted his now famous theory in 1964. This theory was proven with the discovery of a new particle named the Higgs boson particle in July 2012, transforming his theory into fact.

Although Higgs’ achievements contributed greatly to society, committee member Joseph Ferrell said there is more that goes into qualifying for an honorary degree.

Higgs’ connection with UNC began in 1965. He did much of his research on campus, said committee chairwoman Sue Estroff.

“Professor Higgs actually did his training and early work here, so he has ties to the campus and he obviously has stature that is global,” she said. “We wanted to acknowledge his Carolina roots and to honor him and, by doing so, honor the students and faculty that are now here.”

Physics professor Louise Dolan said it is thrilling that after almost 50 years since his time at UNC, his connection to the University and the physics program is being honored.

“Chapel Hill provided a place for him to do that work, and that’s one of the fantastic things about a University such as we have,” Dolan said.

Higgs said he was grateful to receive an honorary degree from the place where he did much of his research.

“Thank you very much for honoring me, and apologies to the people in Chapel Hill for not going out there to receive my honor,” said Higgs upon receiving his degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland from Chancellor Carol Folt, who traveled to Scotland to present the degree.

To begin the process of selecting honorees, the committee of honorary degrees and special awards receives nominations. The committee cannot select more than five recipients for the award, Ferrell said.

After receiving nominations, members of the committee review them individually. After reviewing, the members meet together, discuss the nominees, and vote on the people they believe are the most exemplary candidates.

Estroff said the committee honors the school and the student body when it honors people like Higgs.

Dolan said she feels UNC helped Higgs in his research.

“Often you don’t know what the application is going to be when you do it, but if you’re given the location and the encouragement and just the freedom to do it and the time to do it, then that is often the thing that has a profound impact on the field,” she said.

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