Dedman College News
Originally Posted: July 13, 2018
In a breakthrough development in the field of physics, Associate Professor Stephen Sekula and his group of researchers in the SMU Department of Physics are part of the ATLAS Experiment team to first observe the direct interaction between the Higgs boson and the bottom quark. After several years of dedicated research, the ATLAS Experiment is the first to announce their success and definitively prove the interaction between the particles, ahead of other research groups who were focused on the task.
The Higgs boson is a special particle that plays an essential role in the Standard Model of particle physics, the theory that provides the best mathematical description of nature and explains how the basic building blocks of matter interact. The Higgs boson is theorized to be responsible for the mass of many of these building blocks of matter, including quarks, such as the bottom quark. A prediction of the Standard Model is that when a Higgs boson breaks down, its energy very often results in making bottom quarks. This interaction is difficult to create and extremely difficult to observe,and has therefore gone unproven, until now.
Professor Sekula’s recent work focused on solving this problem by honing an abundance of data from the Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful particle accelerator in the world. “At this point, taking more data wasn’t the primary issue,” explains Sekula. “This is a measurement that’s challenged by the fact that you can’t see clearly what is in the data. For the past year, we have been focused on improving the lens for this process so we really know where to look for the Higgs boson, bottom quark interaction.”
This is where SMU’s supercomputer, Maneframe II, came into play. “In the last year, Maneframe II has been immensely helpful,” says Sekula. “It made it possible to enhance our simulation in ways that were more targeted.” As a result of this and many other efforts from the ATLAS research team, this experiment is the first time the Higgs boson and bottom quark interaction has been observed.
While Maneframe II played a significant role in the process, the most valuable asset to the experiment was the team itself. Professor Sekula has been involved in this project with the ATLAS Experiment since 2015, with his current team at SMU including graduate student Peilong Wang and Postdoctoral Researcher Francesco LoSterzo, and this summer has been a culmination of years of work.What’s more, they were not anticipating to yield such conclusive results until later this year or next.“This measurement is so difficult, it really speaks to the quality of the team that we were able to accomplish this, especially ahead of original expectations,” says Sekula.
These landmark results were publicly announced earlier this week at the International Conference on High-Energy Physics (ICHEP) in Seoul, South Korea. Professor Sekula expects more improvements will be deployed in the coming months and year, with further exploration into the implications of these findings for years to come.
Want to learn more? Watch this video: