In 1964, Peter Higgs predicted the Higgs Boson, a particle so important it has been named the “God particle.”
Forty-nine years later, physicists have tentatively found “God.”
Recently, all eyes in the physics world have been focused on the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator on the border of France and Switzerland.
Zeno Greenwood, an associate professor of physics, said the Collider is a large circular machine that launches beams of particles into one another. He said that the resulting collisions allow us to see what these particles are made of.
“It has very strong magnetic fields,” Greenwood said. “This causes the two beams to collide.”
Greenwood said that Tech is involved in the project measuring the particles these collisions produce. Known as the A Toroidal LHC Apparatus, or ATLAS project, it is one of two similar projects at the Collider.
“You can think of the ATLAS detector as a cylindrical onion,” Greenwood said. “It determines how fast, and in what direction, the particles made by these
proton collisions are going.”
Lee Sawyer, an associate professor of physics, said Tech has students working in Geneva, Switzerland, where the ATLAS project is located.
“We’ve got one post-doctorate student there full-time,” he said. “One graduate student is over there, too. We try to rotate them out.”
Sawyer said while discoveries are being made consistently, it is hard work.
“There’s these scientists doing all this cool work, but that also means you’ve got to sign up for owl shifts from midnight to 3 a.m. and that’s not quite so glamorous.”
The Collider has been covered by every news station from CBS to CNN for the tentative discovery of the Higgs Boson.
Rajivalochan Subramaniam, a physics graduate student, said the discovery of the Higgs Boson would prove the standard model of physics, a theory that seeks to explain the behavior of subatomic particles.
“Everything, the theory, the standard model, worked so well,” Subramaniam said. “Except we didn’t have the Higgs Boson. It explains how all the particles get their mass.”
Subramaniam said he was stationed in Switzerland from 2010-2012 collaborating with researchers from around the world on the ATLAS project.
“In high-level physics, we work as a group,” Subramaniam said. “That’s one thing I really like about it.”
Sawyer said he is not fully sold on the idea of this being the only Higgs Boson.
“We found a Higgs,” Sawyer said. “However, we might not have found the Higgs. It’s possible that there is more than one type.”
Greenwood said the analysis work done by Tech did not lead to the Higgs Boson. He said Tech was involved in searching for other evidence.
“We measured other evidence of the standard model,” Greenwood said. “We measured it with more accuracy than has ever been done before.”
Greenwood said he is very proud of the impact Tech has had on the ATLAS project.
“For a school our size, we’ve contributed quite a bit,” he said. “That’s not just me saying that; we’ve been told that by the United States ATLAS group.”
Sawyer said he is excited about the discovery of the Higgs Boson, but is also a little disappointed that the challenge is over.
“There were a lot of people rooting for us not to discover it,” he said. “There’s nothing in the world better than when something doesn’t turn out right. Scientists love that.”
Sawyer said he would like to make sure the public, especially the critics, know these are not just useless experiments.
“This is the most fundamental science there is,” Sawyer said. “We are literally looking at the fundamental building blocks of the universe.”
Email comments to jts...@latech.edu.