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Unlocking the mysteries of the universe

Unlocking the mysteries of the universe

Physics professors Andrew White, left, and Kaushik De in the Southwest Tier 2 Center housed at UT Arlington. The grid computing facility analyzes data from the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland.

With all the attention the Higgs boson particle has received, you might think its discovery—which scientists all but confirmed in July—would close the book on explaining the physics of our universe.

But there’s plenty more to learn about the new particle that researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) say they’ve found, including whether it actually is the elusive Higgs predicted in 1964. Scientists in UT Arlington’s Center of Excellence for High Energy Physics have contributed to the Higgs search for almost two decades as part of the Dzero experiment at the Fermilab Tevatron near Chicago, and the ATLAS experiment at the LHC in Geneva, Switzerland. Some also have been involved in upgrades to the ATLAS detector. Now they’re designing detectors for the International Linear Collider, an accelerator conceived for precision studies of the Higgs and other physics discovered at the LHC.

“While the Higgs particle was suggested over 40 years ago, this will be the first confirmation that it actually exists in nature. Without the Higgs, how particles get mass was an unsolved mystery in science,” says physics Professor Kaushik De, coordinator of the ATLAS group at UT Arlington. “I would classify this as one of the biggest discoveries in physics during the past 30 years.”

Other UT Arlington high-energy physics researchers include professors Andrew White, Andrew Brandt, and Jaehoon Yu, Associate Professor Amir Farbin, and Assistant Professor Chris Jackson.

Physicists believe interaction with the Higgs boson gives the fundamental particles in the universe their mass. It was the only particle in the physics Standard Model that had not been observed. Researchers at the $10 billion LHC have been aggressively seeking it by accelerating protons to high energy, colliding them, and measuring the results. The massive data resulting from each collision are transported to worldwide computing centers, such as the Southwest Tier 2 Center located at UT Arlington, and painstakingly examined.

With grants from the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation, College of Science researchers are working on more than $14 million in projects related to the ATLAS experiment. Developments in 2012 indicate the University will continue to have a significant role in the advancement of high-energy physics.

Led by Dr. Brandt, a team of researchers recently received new National Science Foundation and Department of Energy funding for research and development of a proton-subdetector that could one day significantly boost ATLAS measurement capabilities.

Dr. White has been appointed to the detector review committee of the European Committee for Future Accelerators. He also leads one of the detector concepts for the proposed International Linear Collider, an important next step, he says, because it can work with the LHC to “reveal the details of mechanisms and symmetries of nature at their most fundamental level.”

Dr. Yu, who is working on future detector development in collaboration with the Argonne National Laboratory, says a definitive discovery of the Higgs particle is only the beginning. “It will raise a whole new set of questions, such as is this the Higgs in the Standard Model of Particle Physics or a new type of particle that requires a whole new theory?”

If the latter, you can bet members of the Center of Excellence for High Energy Physics will join in the exploration.