KU News Release

Dec. 14, 2011
Contact: Brendan Lynch, KU News Service, 785-864-8855

KU researchers at atom smasher help to collect breakthrough Higgs boson data

LAWRENCE — Momentous progress in the hunt for the Higgs boson, sometimes dubbed the “God particle,” depended in part on work from physicists from the University of Kansas.

Results announced Tuesday at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, relied on data from the Compact Muon Solenoid — a colossal detector that KU researchers helped to design and monitor.

“We have over 20 researchers who are part of the collaboration at the Large Hadron Collider,” said Alice Bean, a KU professor of physics who leads a KU team at CERN. “Collisions happen and then four centimeters away there is a detector that’s made of silicon that has pixels the size of human hair — we helped to make that detector, and the detector that comes right after it.”

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Bean’s KU group worked with thousands of scientists from more than 40 countries to develop the solenoid’s silicon pixel detector that has 66 million channels the size of a human hair.

The CMS detector, along with data from the ATLAS detector at the collider, possibly has narrowed the hunt for the mass of the Higgs boson, an elusive subatomic particle that could lead to new technologies and better understanding of the physical universe.

“If the Higgs is there, if the Higgs field and the Higgs boson are actually part of nature, they would help us explain how things get mass,” said Bean. “The CERN announcement talked about where the Higgs isn’t — and we have a tantalizing glimpse of where it might be. This result today has really narrowed the region where it might be. Even though we didn’t discover the Higgs, it’s a big rush.”

Currently, there are four faculty, three post-doctoral researchers, six graduate students and seven undergraduates from KU working at the Large Hadron Collider. Over the next several months, KU researchers will be working to improve the CMS detector while the hunt to find or rule out the Higgs boson enters its final stages.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Bean said. “There’s computing, creating new cables, taking the data you observe and trying to figure out how to sift through it. People in our group do all of those things. We helped to make the detector. We help to maintain the detector and baby-sit it while it’s taking data and make sure that everything’s all right. Then we help to analyze the data.”

Bean said that while the CERN Higgs boson announcement was “nuanced,” it revealed significant progress toward solving one of the biggest mysteries in physics.

“It’s a banner day, and we hope it’s an indication that within the next year, maybe we’ll have an answer,” she said.

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