Tom Kibble

British physicist

Sir Thomas Walter Bannerman "Tom" Kibble (23 December 1932 – 2 June 2016),[2] was a British theoretical physicist, senior research investigator at The Blackett Laboratory, at Imperial College London, UK and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College. He was knighted in the 2014 Birthday Honours for services to physics.[3][4]

Sir Tom W. B. Kibble
Born(1932-12-23)23 December 1932[1]
Died2 June 2016(2016-06-02) (aged 83)[2]
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh, BSc, MA, PhD
Known forQuantum field theory, Broken symmetry, Higgs Boson, Higgs mechanism, and Cosmology
AwardsDirac Medal

Sakurai Prize
Hughes Medal (1981)
Rutherford Medal and Prize (1984)
Guthrie Medal and Prize
Fellow of the Royal Society

Fellow of Imperial College London
Scientific career
FieldsTheoretical physics
InstitutionsImperial College London
ThesisTopics in quantum field theory: 1. Schwinger's action principle; 2. Dispersion relations for inelastic scattering processes (1958)
Doctoral advisorJohn Polkinghorne

His research interests were in quantum field theory (the quantum theory of elementary particles) and in the connections between high-energy particle physics and cosmology (the study of the physical universe). He is best known as one of the first to describe the Higgs mechanism (explaining how some but not all elementary particles have mass), and for his research on topological defects (roughly - points, lines or surfaces in space where there is a jump). From the 1950s he was concerned about the nuclear arms race and from 1970 took leading roles in promoting the social responsibility of the scientist.

Early life and educationEdit

Kibble was born in Madras, India, and was the grandson of William Bannerman, an officer in the Indian Medical Service, and the author Helen Bannerman. He was educated at Doveton Corrie School in Madras and then in Edinburgh, Scotland, at Melville College and at the University of Edinburgh.[5] He graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a BSc in 1955, MA in 1956 and a PhD in 1958.[6] Kibble was married to Anne Allan from 1957 until her death in 2005. They had three children. [7][8][9][10][11]


Kibble worked on symmetry breaking (simple example - a ball at the top of a hill might roll down in any direction), phase transitions (simple example - water turning to ice as it freezes) and topological defects (roughly - points, lines or surfaces in space where there is a jump).

He is most noted for his co-discovery of the Higgs mechanism (explaining how some but not all elementary particles have mass) and prediction of the Higgs boson (a massive particle central to the Higgs mechanism) with Gerald Guralnik and C. R. Hagen (GHK).[12][13][14] As part of Physical Review Letters 50th anniversary celebration, the journal recognized this discovery as one of the milestone papers in PRL history.[15] For this discovery Prof. Kibble was awarded the American Physical Society's 2010 J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics.[16] While widely considered to have authored the most complete of the early papers on the Higgs theory, GHK were controversially not included in the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.[17][18][19] In 2014, Nobel Laureate Peter Higgs expressed disappointment that Kibble had not been chosen to share the Nobel Prize with François Englert and himself.[20]

Kibble pioneered the study of the formation of topological defects in the very early times of the existence of the universe.[21] An influential model of defect formation across a certain kind of phase transition is known as the Kibble-Zurek mechanism. His paper on cosmic strings (line defects of space on a cosmic scale) introduced the idea into modern cosmology.[22]

He was one of the two co-chairs of a research programme funded by the European Science Foundation (ESF) on Cosmology in the Laboratory (COSLAB) which ran from 2001 to 2005. He was previously the coordinator of an ESF Network on Topological Defects in Particle Physics, Condensed Matter & Cosmology (TOPDEF).[6] These programmes studied the analogies between topological defects in the early universe and similar structural defects in liquids and solids, which may be studied in the laboratory. (For a simple example of a network of laboratory topological defects, consider the boundaries between the many small, misaligned crystallites in a metal.)

In 1966 Kibble published a textbook, Classical Mechanics,[23] which is still in print (as of 2016), now in its 5th edition[24] and co-authored with Frank Berkshire.


Kibble was a Fellow of the Royal Society (1980), of the Institute of Physics (1991), and of Imperial College London (2009). He was also a member of the American Physical Society (1958), the European Physical Society (1975) and the Academia Europaea (2000).[6] In 2008, Kibble was named an Outstanding Referee by the American Physical Society.[25]

In addition to the Sakurai Prize, Kibble has been awarded the Hughes Medal (1981) of the Royal Society, the Rutherford (1984) and Guthrie Medals (1993) of the Institute of Physics,[6] the Dirac Medal (2013),[26] the Albert Einstein Medal (2014)[27] and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2014).[28] He was awarded a CBE in the 1998 Birthday Honours and was knighted in the 2014 Birthday Honours for services to physics.[3][4]

Social responsibility of scientistsEdit

In the 1950s and 1960s, Kibble became concerned about the nuclear arms race[29] and from 1970 he took leading roles in several organisations promoting the social responsibility of the scientist.[6] In the period 1970-1977 he was a national committee member, then treasurer, then chair of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science; from 1976 he was a trustee of the Science and Society Trust; from 1981 to 1991 he was a national coordinating committee member, then vice-chair, then chair of Scientists against Nuclear Arms; he was a sponsor of Scientists for Global Responsibility; and from 1988 he was chair, and later a trustee, of the Martin Ryle Trust.[29] He was chair of the organising committee of the Second International Scientists' Congress, held at Imperial College in 1988, and was a co-editor of the proceedings.[30]


  1. The International Who's Who 1996-97 (60 ed.). Europa Publications. 1996. pp. 826–827. ISBN 9781857430219.[1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Tom Kibble, UK physicist who worked on Higgs boson dies, says university". The Daily Telegraph. 2016-06-02. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "No. 60895". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 2014. p. b2.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Queen's birthday honours list 2014: Knights". the Guardian.
  5. "Science – It's not Fiction; Tom Kibble". FP News, The magazine and Annual Review of The Stewart's Melville FP Club. Daniel Stewart's and Melville College Former Pupils Club. December 2014. p. 13. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Kibble, Tom (2011). "Thomas Walter Bannerman (Tom) Kibble – Biography". Curriculum vitae. The Academy of Europe.
  7. "Sad farewell to physicist who transformed our understanding of the universe". Imperial College London. June 3, 2016.
  8. "Higgs pioneer and IOP fellow Sir Thomas Kibble has died". Institute of Physics. June 3, 2016.
  9. "Sir Tom Kibble, physicist – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. June 8, 2016.
  10. Frank Close (June 8, 2016). "Sir Tom Kibble, physicist obituary. One of the world's foremost theoretical physicists". The Guardian.
  11. Jerome Gauntlett (June 10, 2016). "Sir Tom Kibble: a tribute". Imperial College London.
  12. "Phys. Rev. Lett. 13, 585 (1964) – Global Conservation Laws and Massless Particles". Physical Review Letters.
  13. "[0907.3466] The History of the Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble development of the Theory of Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking and Gauge Particles".
  14. "Guralnik, G S; Hagen, C R and Kibble, T W B (1967). Broken Symmetries and the Goldstone Theorem. Advances in Physics, vol. 2" (PDF).
  15. "Physical Review Letters – Letters from the Past – A PRL Retrospective". Physical Review Letters.
  16. "APS Physics – DPF – J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics".
  17. “The 2013 Nobel prizes. Higgs’s bosuns.” Economist (October 12, 2013)
  18. “Why are some scientists unhappy with the Nobel prizes?” Economist (October 9, 2013)
  19. "[1401.6924] Where Have All the Goldstone Bosons Gone?".
  20. "Early night cost Higgs credit for big physics theory". Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  21. Kibble, T. W. B. (1976). "Topology of cosmic domains and strings". J. Phys. A: Math. Gen. 9: 1387. Bibcode:1976JPhA....9.1387K. doi:10.1088/0305-4470/9/8/029.
  22. Hindmarsh, M.; Kibble, T. (1995). "Cosmic strings". Rept.Prog.Phys. 58: 477–562. arXiv:hep-ph/9411342. Bibcode:1995RPPh...58..477H. doi:10.1088/0034-4885/58/5/001.
  23. Kibble T W B (1966) Classical Mechanics. McGraw-Hill, London.
  24. Kibble, T W B and Berkshire, F H (2004) Classical Mechanics. McGraw-Hill, London.
  25. "APS Journals – Outstanding Referees".
  26. "Kibble, Peebles and Rees Share the 2013 Dirac Medal". International Centre for Theoretical Physics. 2013-08-08. Retrieved 2016-06-08.
  27. "Faces & Places - Kibble receives Albert Einstein Medal". CERN Courier. International Journal of High-Energy Physics. 2014-07-13. Retrieved 2016-06-08.
  28. "Academic excellence recognised as RSE announces Royal Medals and Prizes" (PDF). Royal Society of Edinburgh. 19 March 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  29. 29.0 29.1 SGR Sponsors
  30. John Hassard, Tom Kibble and Patricia Lewis (editors) (1989) Ways Out of the Arms Race: from the nuclear threat to mutual security. World Scientific, Singapore.

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