SMU scientists celebrate Nobel Prize for Higgs discovery

Particle collision from the ATLAS ExperimentSMU’s experimental physics group played a pivotal role in discovering the Higgs boson — the particle that proves the theory for which two scientists have received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today awarded the Nobel Prize to theorists Peter W. Higgs and François Englert to recognize their work developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field, which gives elementary particles mass. U.S. scientists played a significant role in advancing the theory and in discovering the particle that proves the existence of the Higgs field, the Higgs boson.

The Nobel citation recognizes Higgs and Englert “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.”

“A scientist may test out a thousand different ideas over the course of a career. If you’re fortunate, you get to experiment with one that works,” says SMU physicist Ryszard Stroynowski, a principal investigator in the search for the Higgs boson. As the leader of an SMU Department of Physics team working on the experiment, Stroynowski served as U.S. coordinator for the ATLAS Experiment’s Liquid Argon Calorimeter, which measures energy from the particles created by proton collisions.

The University’s experimental physics group has been involved since 1994 and is a major contributor to the research, the heart of which is the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator on the border with Switzerland and France.

Preliminary discovery results were announced July 4, 2012 at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, Switzerland, and at the International Conference of High Energy Physics in Melbourne, Australia.

• Several contributors from SMU have made their mark on the project at various stages, including current Department of Physics faculty members Ryszard Stroynowski, Jingbo Ye, Robert Kehoe and Stephen Sekula. Faculty members Pavel Nadolsky and Fred Olness performed theoretical calculations used in various aspects of data analysis.

• University postdoctoral fellows on the ATLAS Experiment have included Julia Hoffmann, David Joffe, Ana Firan, Haleh Hadavand, Peter Renkel, Aidan Randle-Conde, Daniel Goldin and Sami Kama.

• SMU has awarded eight Ph.D. and seven M.S. degrees to students who performed advanced work on ATLAS, including Ryan Rios, Rozmin Daya, Renat Ishmukhametov, Tingting Cao, Kamile Dindar, Pavel Zarzhitsky and Azzedin Kasmi.

• Significant contributions to ATLAS have also been made by SMU faculty members in the Department of Physics’ Optoelectronics Lab, including Tiankuan Liu, Annie Xiang and Datao Gong.

“The discovery of the Higgs is a great achievement, confirming an idea that will require rewriting of the textbooks,” Stroynowski says. “But there is much more to be learned from the LHC and from ATLAS data in the next few years. We look forward to continuing this work.”

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Research Spotlight: CERN scientists close in on Higgs boson

An event showing four muons (red tracks) from a proton-proton collision in ATLAS. This event is consistent with two Z particles decaying into two muons each. Such events are produced by Standard Model processes without Higgs particles. They are also a possible signature for Higgs particle production, but many events must be analyzed together in order to tell if there is a Higgs signal. (Image courtesy of CERN.)

In a giant game of hide and seek, physicists say there are indications they finally may have found evidence of the long sought after fundamental particle called the Higgs boson.

Researchers at Switzerland-based CERN, the largest high-energy physics experiment in the world, have been seeking the Higgs boson since it was theorized in the 1960s. The so-called “God” particle is believed to play a fundamental role in solving the important mystery of why matter has mass.

Thousands of scientists from around the world seek evidence of the Higgs particle through experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The researchers analyze a flood of electronic data streaming from the breakup of speeding protons colliding in the massive particle accelerator. Scientists on Tuesday announced in a seminar held at CERN that they’ve found hints of the Higgs.

SMU physicist Ryszard Stroynowski“Now we have a strong indication, but not yet a confirmation, of a discovery,” said SMU physicist Ryszard Stroynowski (left), the leader of SMU’s team of scientists working on the experiment.

Theorists have predicted that some subatomic particles gain mass by interacting with other particles called Higgs bosons. The Higgs boson is the only undiscovered part of the Standard Model of physics, which describes the basic building blocks of matter and their interactions.

Higgs bosons, if they exist, are short-lived and can decay in many different ways. Just as a vending machine might return the same amount of change using different combinations of coins, the Higgs can decay into different combinations of particles. Discovery relies on observing statistically significant excesses of the particles into which they decay rather than observing the Higgs itself.

“If indeed we are able to confirm sighting of the Higgs in the months ahead, this clearly focuses our future studies,” said Stroynowski, a professor in the SMU Department of Physics. “Now by the middle of next year we’ll know for sure if this particle exists and we can begin to study its properties. This is a very big step in the understanding of particle physics.”

Besides Stroynowski, the SMU team of researchers includes three other Physics Department faculty: Jingbo YeRobert Kehoe and Stephen Sekula, six postdoctoral fellows and five graduate students. Main contributions to the new analysis of the data were made by postdoctoral researcher Julia Hoffman and graduate student Ryan Rios.

Others in the department who have contributed include former postdoctoral fellow David Joffe, now an assistant professor at Kennesaw State University, graduate students Renat Ishmukhametov and Rozmin Daya and theoretical faculty Fredrick Olness and Pavel Nadolsky.

Stroynowski, Hoffman, and Rios are among the more than 70 scientists whose work directly contributed to the conference papers reporting the findings, said Olness, a professor and chairman of the SMU Department of Physics. While thousands of scientists worldwide participated directly and indirectly in the experiments, SMU is one of only a few U.S. universities whose scientists are named among the 70 researchers directly cited on one of the three conference papers.

“SMU’s role in the LHC experiments provides our students a chance to participate in pioneering discoveries,” Olness said. “SMU students helped build the ATLAS detector, they were in the control room when the experiment started up, and they contributed to the analysis. The results presented today are historic, and they will help shape our view of the matter and forces that comprise our universe; SMU students have played a role in this achievement.”

SMU's Ryszard Stroynowski and Ryan Rios
In Fondren Science Building, physicist and SMU Physics Professor Ryszard Stroynowski and physics graduate student Ryan Rios discuss the Higgs boson after viewing a CERN web cast Tuesday announcing evidence of the Higgs. (Photo by Hillsman S. Jackson.)

Discovering the type of Higgs boson predicted in the Standard Model would confirm a theory first put forward in the 1960s.

“This year, the LHC has come roaring into the front of the hunt for the Higgs boson and may be poised to either identify it, or refute its existence, in the coming months,” said Kehoe, associate professor in the SMU Department of Physics. “As I like to tell my students learning modern physics, ‘You still live in a world in which we do not know for sure the mechanism breaking the symmetry between electromagnetic and weak interactions. That world may be soon to change forever. We may soon see a truly new thing.’”

– Written by Margaret Allen

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Three honored at Dedman College Award Celebration

Dedman College Celebration 2010Three outstanding members of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences community were honored April 14 at the 2010 Dedman College Award Celebration.

Fred Olness, professor of physics and 2009-10 Faculty Senate president, was named Dedman Family Distinguished Professor. He is a specialist in elementary particle physics phenomenology with an emphasis in quantum chromodynamics, and his research seeks to determine the fundamental building blocks of nature and what holds them together. He was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2005 and has conducted research with the Theoretical Physics Group at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. He has written more than 100 research articles and is co-author (with Robert L. Zimmerman) of the textbook Mathematica for Physics, now in its second edition. Olness joined the SMU faculty in 1991 and has received numerous awards, including the Ford Research Fellowship in 2009, the “M” Award in 2007, and the Distinguished University Citizen Award in 2006.

Political science, finance and French major Charanya Krishnaswami received the Robert and Nancy Dedman Outstanding Senior Student Award. A President’s Scholar from Plano, she is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Robert Stewart Hyer Society and the University Honors Program. She served as community service coordinator for her Residence Hall Council and as vice president of SMU Mock Trial. In addition, she was a student editor and Henry S. Miller Research Fellow with SMU’s Tower Center for Political Studies. She plans to attend law school and pursue a career with the United Nations as a human rights lawyer.

Kyle Bagwell (’83), the Donald L. Lucas Professor of Economics at Stanford University, received the Dedman College Distinguished Graduate Award. He works in various fields of economics, including industrial organizations, international economics and game theory. A Fellow of the Econometric Society, he is co-author (with Robert W. Steiger) of The Economics of the World Trading System. He is also a Senior Fellow of the Stanford Center for International Development, a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research and a reporter for the American Law Institute project on Principles of Trade Law: The World Trade Organization. Bagwell earned undergraduate degrees in economics and mathematics from Dedman College in 1983 and his Ph.D. in economics from Stanford in 1986.

(Above, left to right: Charanya Krishnaswami ’10, Fred Olness and Kyle Bagwell ’83 at the 2010 Dedman College Celebration.)

For the Record: Feb. 9, 2010

Fred OlnessFred Olness, Physics, has been chosen as the inaugural Theorist of the Week by the Helmholtz Alliance. The program has been created “to improve the exchange between theory and experiment and to strengthen the theory background of experimental Ph.D. students.” Olness will spend a week at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), Germany’s largest accelerator center, from March 8-12, 2010. He will give a seminar on “W/Z/Higgs Production at the Large Hadron Collider and PDF Uncertainties.” W and Z boson production will be used as benchmark processes at the LHC to calibrate various searches for the Higgs boson and other “new physics” processes. Properly quantifying uncertainties will help physicists maximize the discovery potential of the LHC.

In addition, Olness has been elected co-spokesperson of the CTEQ collaboration, an international collaboration of the top 30 experimentalists and theorists from 18 universities and 5 national laboratories working on quantum chromodynamics.

A 2009 recipient of SMU’s Ford Research Fellowship, Olness specializes in elementary particle physics phenomenology with an emphasis in quantum chromodynamics, the force that binds nuclei. His research seeks to determine the fundamental building blocks of nature and what holds them together. He also serves as 2009-10 SMU Faculty Senate president.

Faculty, staff join student-led fundraiser for Haiti


The entire SMU community is responding to the disastrous earthquake in Haiti with a student-led relief campaign. SMU’s Heart Beats for Haiti seeks to raise relief funds over a 3-week period through Feb. 15, 2010.

Students, faculty and staff members will have the opportunity to purchase a small paper heart for $5 and a larger heart for $10 in Umphrey Lee Center and the Hughes-Trigg Student Center. The buyer can sign his or her name to the heart, which will then be displayed in the Student Center. Donations of every size will be accepted, and Pony Express funds may be used to give to the effort.

All funds raised will be given to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Patrick Kobler, student body president, and seniors Nicola Muchnikoff and Rachel Carey came up with the idea before the spring term started.

“We just felt the magnitude of the situation is such that we had to do something as a student body and a community,” Kobler says. “The news has been so dire, and the need has been so great, and we at SMU are so lucky – we need to get involved.”

Kobler contacted Faculty Senate President Fred Olness and Staff Association President Alison Tweedy to help coordinate a campuswide effort.

“The Senate will work to spread the word about the Haiti fund-raiser so our community can provide broad support for Haitians in need,” Olness says.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea and opportunity for the entire SMU community to work together,” Tweedy says. “I hope everyone will participate and give what they can.”

Faculty and staff members will earn one Wellpower Spirit Point for their donation to the student campaign, says Mary Stall, HR specialist in organizational effectiveness in SMU’s Department of Human Resources.

Cash and checks will be accepted; checks should be made out to “SMU’s Heart Beats for Haiti.” Checks may be sent by mail to Lydia Dale, SMU Box 750436, Dallas TX 75275-0436.

Visit SMU’s Heart Beats for Haiti on the Student Senate website

Q&A: 2009-10 Faculty Senate President Fred Olness

Fred OlnessFred Olness, professor of physics in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, has taken on the challenges of leading SMU’s Faculty Senate during a year when a General Education Curriculum update, SACS reaccreditation and capital campaign have placed faculty issues front and center.

The 2009-10 Faculty Senate president talked with SMU Forum about shining a spotlight on faculty excellence, keeping exceptional students fully engaged, and what the entire University can learn about itself during the reaccreditation process. Read more under the link.

Continue reading “Q&A: 2009-10 Faculty Senate President Fred Olness”

Notes from the Fall 2009 General Faculty Meeting

C. Michael Hawn, professor of church music and director of the Master of Sacred Music Program in Perkins School of Theology, was honored as the 2008-09 United Methodist Church University Scholar/Teacher of the Year at SMU’s Fall 2009 General Faculty Meeting Aug. 26.

New University Chaplain Stephen Rankin gave the invocation, and President R. Gerald Turner updated the faculty on enrollment, the Second Century Campaign and other issues surrounding campus life. Provost Paul Ludden presented newly tenured faculty members with their regalia.

Continue reading “Notes from the Fall 2009 General Faculty Meeting”

Four professors named Ford Research Fellows for 2009

SMU's 2009 Ford Research FellowsFour exemplary SMU researchers have received the University’s 2009 Ford Research Fellowships. This year’s recipients are Ben Johnson, History; Fred Olness, Physics; Larry Ruben, Biological Sciences; and Carolyn Smith-Morris, Anthropology. All of the new Ford Research Fellows teach in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Established in 2002 through a $1 million pledge from Gerald J. Ford, chair of SMU’s Board of Trustees, the fellowships help the University retain and reward outstanding scholars. Each recipient receives a cash prize for research support during the year.

Read more about this year’s recipients under the link. Right, the new Ford Fellows were honored by the SMU Board of Trustees during its May meeting (left to right): Gerald J. Ford, Ben Johnson, Carolyn Smith-Morris, Fred Olness, Larry Ruben, and SMU President R. Gerald Turner.

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High school teachers see ‘Physics in Action’ at SMU

quarknet-participants-2008-300.jpgThis summer 20 teachers from Dallas-area high schools participated in QuarkNet – an SMU program that showed them recent discoveries in physics through lectures and hands-on labs. The program is conducted by scientists from the Department of Physics in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, chaired by Ryszard Stroynowski.

The one-week workshop included lectures and labs led by physics faculty members Simon Dalley, Fred Olness and Randy Scalise.

High school physics teacher Nancy Jane Hall from Garland, Texas, describes QuarkNet as “one of the most valuable seminars for the advancement of current physics topics” and “a treasure trove of cutting-edge information.” Hall has participated in QuarkNet for three years, learning about recent discoveries in physics and better ways of teaching the subject.

The QuarkNet program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Office of High Energy Physics, the Office of Science, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Tune In: A guided tour of a scientific wonder

Fred Olness at CERNA large team from SMU’s Physics Department is among the thousands of international participants collaborating on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. Take a look at their work in a video hosted by Fred Olness (right), physics professor in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. video

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