Decades of OSU research underpin the apparent recent discovery of the elusive Higgs at CERN
by Pam Frost Gorder
Thousands of researchers from hundreds of institutions worldwide searched for the particle for decades — among them, Ohio State physicists and their students. Scores of Buckeyes have earned degrees hunting for the particle, whether at Fermi National Laboratory’s Tevatron accelerator, or at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
At LHC, scientists smashed billions of particles together in the hope that the Higgs would tumble free among the quarks and other ingredients of matter that spilled out, and leave some evidence of its existence before it decayed away in a fraction of a second.
The search has formed the core of careers of faculty members like K.K. Gan, professor of Physics, who was on hand for the LHC’s July 4 celebrations in Melbourne, Australia.
“I would say that it is fortuitous that the Department of Physics has invested heavily in the LHC physics program,” Gan said. “This exciting program will continue to produce many interesting results in the next 20 years, enabling new generations of undergraduate and graduate students to do world-class science.”
The Higgs provides an explanation as to why other particles have mass. Because it is the last of a cadre of particles that were predicted to exist by the founding equations of modern physics, its existence is not so much a discovery as it is further reassurance that those equations — known as the Standard Model — are right.
“We anticipated finding the Higgs early on — what’s more exciting is what comes next,” said Brian Winer, also professor of Physics. “We hope that a whole new landscape of physics opens up in the years to come. I am looking forward to not only studying the Higgs over the next few years, but looking for new particles as well. In fact, most physicists believe there are more particles, maybe even many more.”
That’s why the next few years will be spent studying the Higgs in detail, to see if its properties match expectations. Stan Durkin, professor of Physics, is among those who are hoping that the Higgs offers some surprises.
“There are strong theoretical arguments that a Standard Model Higgs is not enough to complete our understanding of particle physics. Most of us are secretly hoping that while making detailed measurements of the particle’s decays we are led to a new understanding of nature. The next few years at the LHC will be extremely exciting. I can’t wait to see what we will uncover,” Durkin said.
For the Ohio State faculty who got to bask in the discovery of the Higgs, their work is far from over:
• Christopher Hill, associate professor of Physics, is deputy physics coordinator for the LHC’s Compact Muon Solenoid experiment and responsible for overseeing all analyses of CMS data.
• With 19 years of experience at CERN, Durkin and T.Y. Ling, professor emeritus of Physics, designed and built a greater portion of the Endcap Muon System electronics for CMS. They’ll install improved electronics next spring.
• With Richard Kass and Harris Kagan, both professors of Physics, Gan developed computer chips for the pixel detectors within the LHC’s ATLAS experiment.
• Winer and Richard Hughes, professor of Physics, have more than 25 years of experience at the Tevatron, where they created particle-hunting computer algorithms called neural networks, which mimic the learning process of the human brain. While still working at Fermilab, the two joined the LHC’s CMS experiment a year ago.