Stephen Sekula says observation of the Higgs particle transforming into bottom quarks confirms the 20th-century recipe for mass
DALLAS (SMU) – Scientists conducting physics experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider have announced the discovery of the Higgs boson transforming, as it decays, into subatomic particles called bottom quarks, an observation that confirms that the “Standard Model” of the universe – the 20th century recipe for everything in the known physical world – is still valid.
This new discovery is a big step forward in the quest to understand how the Higgs enables fundamental particles to acquire mass. Many scientists suspect that the Higgs could interact with particles outside the Standard Model, such as dark matter – the unseen matter that does not emit or absorb light, but may make up more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe.
SMU played important roles in the analysis announced by CERN Aug. 28, including:
Development of the underlying analysis software framework (Stephen Sekula, SMU associate professor of physics was co-leader of the small group that included SMU graduate student Peilong Wang and post-doctoral researcher Francesco Lo Sterzo, that does this for the larger analysis for 2017-2018)
Studying background processes that mimic this Higgs boson decay, reducing measurement uncertainty in the final result.
“The Standard Model is the recipe for everything that surrounds us in the world today. Sekula explained. “It has been tested to ridiculous precision. People have been trying for 30-40 years to figure out where or if the Standard Model described matter incorrectly. Like any recipe you inherit from a family member, you trust but verify. This might be grandma’s favorite recipe, but do you really need two sticks of butter? This finding shows that the Standard Model is still the best recipe for the Universe as we know it.”
Scientists would have been intrigued if the Standard Model had not survived this test, Sekula said, because failure would have produced new knowledge.
“When we went to the moon, we didn’t know we’d get Mylar and Tang,” Sekula said. “What we’ve achieved getting to this point is we’ve pushed the boundaries of technology in both computing and electronics just to make this observation. Technology as we know it will continue to be revolutionized by fundamental curiosity about why the universe is the way it is.
“As for what we will get from all this experimentation, the honest answer is I don’t know,” Sekula said. “But based on the history of science, it’s going to be amazing.”
At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. They use the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles. The particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. The process gives the physicists clues about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature. Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.
New knowledge has caused us to reconsider many previous conclusions about what the universe is and how it works.
Despite centuries of scientific advancements, there is much about the universe that remains unknown. New knowledge and discoveries in the last 20 years have challenged previously accepted ideas and theories that were once regarded as scientific truth and have subjected them to increasing scrutiny.
These additions to our knowledge have caused scientists to reconsider many previous conclusions about what the universe is and how it works.
““Reality in the Shadows”” or “What the Heck’s the Higgs?” is a new book that explores the concepts that shape our current understanding of the universe and the frontiers of our knowledge of the cosmos.
The authors — two physicists and an engineer — tell us in a manner that non-scientists can readily follow, why studies have moved to superstring theory/M-theory, ideas about extra dimensions of space, and ideas about new particles in nature to find answers. It also explores why these ideas are far from established as accurate descriptions of reality.
“Our book explains how we know what we know about the universe, what we don’t know, and what we wish we did know,” said co-author Stephen Sekula, an associate professor of Physics at SMU. A physicist, Sekula conducts research into the Higgs Boson at the energy frontier on CERN’s ATLAS Experiment.
The book was initiated by Frank Blitzer, an engineer who participated on national space programs like Apollo and Patriot, several years ago, Sekula said. He was joined by co-author S. James Gates Jr., well known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity and superstring theory, a few years ago.
“Frank and Jim sought additional input to help complete the book, and serendipitously Frank’s grandson, Ryan, was an SMU undergraduate and Hunt Scholar who helped connect them to me,” Sekula said. “After over an additional year of work, the book was completed.”
The foundations of modern physics rest on ideas that are over 100 years old and battle-tested, Sekula said.
“But nature has offered us new puzzles that have not yet been successfully explained by those ideas,” he added. “Perhaps we don’t yet have the right idea, or perhaps we haven’t searched deep enough into the cosmos. These are exciting times, with opportunities for a new generation of physicists who might crack these puzzles. Our book will help a curious reader to see the way in which knowledge was established, and encourage them to be engaged in solving the new mysteries.”
“Reality in the Shadows,” available through YBK Publishers, describes how humanity came to learn the workings of the universe as groundwork for the science that found the Higgs particle. Now scientists are hunting for the explanations for dark matter and the accelerated expansion of the cosmos, as well as for the many new questions the Higgs Boson itself has raised.
Scientists have recently discovered colliding black holes and neutron stars, that there is more non-luminous matter (dark matter) in the universe than the ordinary stuff of everyday life, and that the universe seems to grow larger each second at a faster and faster rate. Readers will learn how scientists discern such features of the universe and begin to see how to think beyond what is known to what is not yet known.
Throughout the book are descriptions of important developments in theoretical physics that lead the reader to a step-by-step understanding.
Sekula teaches physics and conducts research at ATLAS. He contributed to the measurement of decay modes of the Higgs boson and to the measurement of its spin-parity quantum numbers. Complementary to these efforts, he has worked with colleagues on the ATLAS Experiment to search for additional Higgs bosons in nature, providing intellectual leadership and direct involvement in several searches.
Gates was named 2014 “Scientist of the Year” by the Harvard Foundation. He was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and received the 2013 National Medal of Science, the highest recognition given to scientists by the United States.
Gates has been featured on many TV documentary programs on physics, including “The Elegant Universe,” “Einstein’s Big Idea,” “Fabric of the Cosmos” and “The Hunt for the Higgs.” His DVD series, “Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality,” makes the complexities of unification theory comprehensible.
Blitzer has more than 50 years of experience in engineering, program management, and business development and participated on national space programs, and The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), holding several patents in guidance and control. He has spent more than 20 years in independent research of the subject of the book.
The festive event coincided with the kick-off of SMU’s Fall Semester and included Solar Eclipse Cookies served while viewing the rare astronomical phenomenon.
The eclipse reached its peak at 1:09 p.m. in Dallas at more than 75% of totality.
“What a great first day of the semester and terrific event to bring everyone together with the help of Dedman College scientists,” said Dedman Dean Thomas DiPiero. “And the eclipse cookies weren’t bad, either.”
Physics faculty provided indirect methods for observing the eclipse, including a telescope with a viewing cone on the steps of historic Dallas Hall, a projection of the eclipse onto a screen into Dallas Hall, and a variety of homemade hand-held devices.
Outside on the steps of Dallas Hall, Associate Professor Stephen Sekula manned his home-built viewing tunnel attached to a telescope for people to indirectly view the eclipse.
“I was overwhelmed by the incredible response of the students, faculty and community,” Sekula said. “The people who flocked to Dallas Hall were energized and engaged. It moved me that they were so interested in — and, in some cases, had their perspective on the universe altered by — a partial eclipse of the sun by the moon.”
A team of Physics Department faculty assembled components to use a mirror to project the eclipse from a telescope on the steps of Dallas Hall into the rotunda onto a screen hanging from the second-floor balcony.
Adjunct Professor John Cotton built the mount for the mirror — with a spare, just in case — and Professor and Department Chairman Ryszard Stroynowski and Sekula arranged the tripod setup and tested the equipment.
Stroynowski also projected an illustration of the Earth, the moon and the sun onto the wall of the rotunda to help people visualize movement and location of those cosmic bodies during the solar eclipse.
Professor Fred Olness handed out cardboard projectors and showed people how to use them to indirectly view the eclipse.
“The turn-out was fantastic,” Olness said. “Many families with children participated, and we distributed cardboard with pinholes so they could project the eclipse onto the sidewalk. It was rewarding that they were enthused by the science.”
Stroynowski, Sekula and others at the viewing event were interviewed by CBS 11 TV journalist Robert Flagg.
Physics Professor Thomas Coan and Guillermo Vasquez, SMU Linux and research computing support specialist, put together a sequence of photos they took during the day from Fondren Science Building.
“The experience of bringing faculty, students and even some out-of-campus community members together by sharing goggles, cameras, and now pictures of one of the great natural events, was extremely gratifying,” Vasquez said.
Sekula said the enthusiastic response from the public is driving plans to prepare for the next event of this kind.
“I’m really excited to share with SMU and Dallas in a total eclipse of the sun on April 8, 2024,” he said.
Sekula was among the SMU physicists at Geneva-based CERN — seat of the world’s largest collaborative physics experiment — in December 2011 who found hints of the long sought after Higgs boson, dubbed the fundamental “God” particle.
Sekula conducts research at the energy frontier through CERN’s ATLAS Experiment. He co-convened the ATLAS Higgs Subgroup 6: Beyond-the-Standard Model Higgs Physics from 2012-2013. He is involved in the search for additional Higgs bosons. He also is an authority on big data and high-performance computing.
By Barth Keck
Last week was a newsworthy week — at least for this high school English teacher.
In a story out of Hartford last Wednesday, the state Board of Education officially eliminated the requirement that standardized test scores be tied to teacher evaluations. The move, while controversial, was a common-sense decision that recognizes the many problems created by evaluations based on standardized tests. A newsworthy development, indeed, for anyone interested in education.
Even so, a more newsworthy event for me occurred on Tuesday when Southern Methodist University professor Stephen Sekula visited English and science classes at his alma mater and my workplace, Haddam-Killingworth High School. Speaking to my students in Media Literacy, Sekula explained in vivid detail how scientists rigorously and deliberately employ the scientific method in their never-ending search for answers. It is with similar vigilance, he explained, that individuals must consider the multitude of messages around them to become truly “media-literate.”
“A scientific theory is a very well-tested explanation, built from facts, confirmed hypotheses, and inferences,” according to the physics professor. “It is more powerful than a fact because it explains facts.”
Unfortunately, said Sekula, the word “theory” is often likened to “opinion” in public dialogue — as in “human-caused climate change is just a theory” — but there’s an essential difference between theory and opinion. Scientists know the difference, of course, but so should all citizens. Thus, a media-literate person sees a red flag whenever someone — a “pseudoscientist” — uses “theory” and “opinion” interchangeably.
“Pseudoscience readily admits opinions and equates that with the idea of scientific theory,” explained Sekula, “requiring no high quality evidence to make explanatory claims about the world.”
And there it was: the explanation for so much happening in the public sphere right now. Fake news, conspiracy theories, science-averse officials appointed to science-dependent federal agencies. Professor Sekula’s message could not be more timely and, therefore, newsworthy.
CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and its experiments are back in action, now taking physics data for 2016 to get an improved understanding of fundamental physics.
Following its annual winter break, the most powerful collider in the world has been switched back on.
Geneva-based CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — an accelerator complex and its experiments — has been fine-tuned using low-intensity beams and pilot proton collisions, and now the LHC and the experiments are ready to take an abundance of data.
The goal is to improve our understanding of fundamental physics, which ultimately in decades to come can drive innovation and inventions by researchers in other fields.
Scientists from SMU’s Department of Physics are among the several thousand physicists worldwide who contribute on the LHC research.
“All of us here hope that some of the early hints will be confirmed and an unexpected physics phenomenon will show up,” said Ryszard Stroynowski, SMU professor and a principal investigator on the LHC. “If something new does appear, we will try to contribute to the understanding of what it may be.”
SMU physicists work on the LHC’s ATLAS experiment. Run 1 of the Large Hadron Collider made headlines in 2012 when scientists observed in the data a new fundamental particle, the Higgs boson. The collider was then paused for an extensive upgrade and came back much more powerful than before. As part of Run 2, physicists on the Large Hadron Collider’s experiments are analyzing new proton collision data to unravel the structure of the Higgs.
The Higgs was the last piece of the puzzle for the Standard Model — a theory that offers the best description of the known fundamental particles and the forces that govern them. In 2016 the ATLAS and CMS collaborations of the LHC will study this boson in depth.
Over the next three to four months there is a need to verify the measurements of the Higgs properties taken in 2015 at lower energies with less data, Stroynowski said.
“We also must check all hints of possible deviations from the Standard Model seen in the earlier data — whether they were real effects or just statistical fluctuations,” he said. “In the long term, over the next one to two years, we’ll pursue studies of the Higgs decays to heavy b quarks leading to the understanding of how one Higgs particle interacts with other Higgs particles.”
In addition, the connection between the Higgs Boson and the bottom quark is an important relationship that is well-described in the Standard Model but poorly understood by experiments, said Stephen Sekula, SMU associate professor. The SMU ATLAS group will continue work started last year to study the connection, Sekula said.
“We will be focused on measuring this relationship in both Standard Model and Beyond-the-Standard Model contexts,” he said.
SMU physicists also study Higgs-boson interactions with the most massive known particle, the top-quark, said Robert Kehoe, SMU associate professor.
“This interaction is also not well-understood,” Kehoe said. “Our group continues to focus on the first direct measurement of the strength of this interaction, which may reveal whether the Higgs mechanism of the Standard Model is truly fundamental.”
All those measurements are key goals in the ATLAS Run 2 and beyond physics program, Sekula said. In addition, none of the ultimate physics goals can be achieved without faultless operation of the complex ATLAS detector, its software and data acquisition system.
“The SMU group maintains work on operations, improvements and maintenance of two components of ATLAS — the Liquid Argon Calorimeter and data acquisition trigger,” Stroynowski said.
Intensity of the beam to increase, supplying six times more proton collisions
Following a short commissioning period, the LHC operators will now increase the intensity of the beams so that the machine produces a larger number of collisions.
“The LHC is running extremely well,” said CERN Director for Accelerators and Technology, Frédérick Bordry. “We now have an ambitious goal for 2016, as we plan to deliver around six times more data than in 2015.”
The LHC’s collisions produce subatomic fireballs of energy, which morph into the fundamental building blocks of matter. The four particle detectors located on the LHC’s ring allow scientists to record and study the properties of these building blocks and look for new fundamental particles and forces.
This is the second year the LHC will run at a collision energy of 13 TeV. During the first phase of Run 2 in 2015, operators mastered steering the accelerator at this new higher energy by gradually increasing the intensity of the beams.
“The restart of the LHC always brings with it great emotion”, said Fabiola Gianotti, CERN Director General. “With the 2016 data the experiments will be able to perform improved measurements of the Higgs boson and other known particles and phenomena, and look for new physics with an increased discovery potential.”
New exploration can begin at higher energy, with much more data
Beams are made of “trains” of bunches, each containing around 100 billion protons, moving at almost the speed of light around the 27-kilometre ring of the LHC. These bunch trains circulate in opposite directions and cross each other at the center of experiments. Last year, operators increased the number of proton bunches up to 2,244 per beam, spaced at intervals of 25 nanoseconds. These enabled the ATLAS and CMS collaborations to study data from about 400 million million proton–proton collisions. In 2016 operators will increase the number of particles circulating in the machine and the squeezing of the beams in the collision regions. The LHC will generate up to 1 billion collisions per second in the experiments.
“In 2015 we opened the doors to a completely new landscape with unprecedented energy. Now we can begin to explore this landscape in depth,” said CERN Director for Research and Computing Eckhard Elsen.
Between 2010 and 2013 the LHC produced proton-proton collisions with 8 Tera-electronvolts of energy. In the spring of 2015, after a two-year shutdown, LHC operators ramped up the collision energy to 13 TeV. This increase in energy enables scientists to explore a new realm of physics that was previously inaccessible. Run II collisions also produce Higgs bosons — the groundbreaking particle discovered in LHC Run I — 25 percent faster than Run I collisions and increase the chances of finding new massive particles by more than 40 percent.
But there are still several questions that remain unanswered by the Standard Model, such as why nature prefers matter to antimatter, and what dark matter consists of, despite it potentially making up one quarter of our universe.
The huge amounts of data from the 2016 LHC run will enable physicists to challenge these and many other questions, to probe the Standard Model further and to possibly find clues about the physics that lies beyond it.
The physics run with protons will last six months. The machine will then be set up for a four-week run colliding protons with lead ions.
“We’re proud to support more than a thousand U.S. scientists and engineers who play integral parts in operating the detectors, analyzing the data, and developing tools and technologies to upgrade the LHC’s performance in this international endeavor,” said Jim Siegrist, Associate Director of Science for High Energy Physics in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. “The LHC is the only place in the world where this kind of research can be performed, and we are a fully committed partner on the LHC experiments and the future development of the collider itself.”
The four largest LHC experimental collaborations, ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb, now start to collect and analyze the 2016 data. Their broad physics program will be complemented by the measurements of three smaller experiments — TOTEM, LHCf and MoEDAL — which focus with enhanced sensitivity on specific features of proton collisions. — SMU, CERN and Fermilab
SMU scientists and their research have a global reach that is frequently noted, beyond peer publications and media mentions.
By Margaret Allen
SMU News & Communications
It was a good year for SMU faculty and student research efforts. Here is a small sampling of public and published acknowledgements during 2015:
Hot topic merits open access
Taylor & Francis, publisher of the online journal Environmental Education Research, lifted its subscription-only requirement to meet demand for an article on how climate change is taught to middle-schoolers in California.
Co-author of the research was Diego Román, assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.
Román’s research revealed that California textbooks are teaching sixth graders that climate change is a controversial debate stemming from differing opinions, rather than a scientific conclusion based on rigorous scientific evidence.
The researchers tested the drugs by simulating their interaction in a computer-generated model of one of the cell’s key molecular pumps — the protein P-glycoprotein, or P-gp. Outcomes of interest were then tested in the Wise-Vogel wet lab.
The ongoing research is the work of biochemists John Wise, associate professor, and Pia Vogel, professor and director of the SMU Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery in Dedman College. Assisting them were a team of SMU graduate and undergraduate students.
The researchers developed the model to overcome the problem of relying on traditional static images for the structure of P-gp. The simulation makes it possible for researchers to dock nearly any drug in the protein and see how it behaves, then test those of interest in an actual lab.
To date, the researchers have run millions of compounds through the pump and have discovered some that are promising for development into pharmaceutical drugs to battle cancer.
Strong interest in research on sexual victimization
Teen girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after learning to assertively resist unwanted sexual overtures and after practicing resistance in a realistic virtual environment, according to three professors from the SMU Department of Psychology.
The finding was reported in Behavior Therapy. The article was one of the psychology journal’s most heavily shared and mentioned articles across social media, blogs and news outlets during 2015, the publisher announced.
The study was the work of Dedman College faculty Lorelei Simpson Rowe, associate professor and Psychology Department graduate program co-director; Ernest Jouriles, professor; and Renee McDonald, SMU associate dean for research and academic affairs.
Consumers assume bigger price equals better quality
Even when competing firms can credibly disclose the positive attributes of their products to buyers, they may not do so.
Instead, they find it more lucrative to “signal” quality through the prices they charge, typically working on the assumption that shoppers think a high price indicates high quality. The resulting high prices hurt buyers, and may create a case for mandatory disclosure of quality through public policy.
That was a finding of the research of Dedman College’s Santanu Roy, professor, Department of Economics. Roy’s article about the research was published in February in one of the blue-ribbon journals, and the oldest, in the field, The Economic Journal.
Chemistry research group edits special issue
Chemistry professors Dieter Cremer and Elfi Kraka, who lead SMU’s Computational and Theoretical Chemistry Group, were guest editors of a special issue of the prestigious Journal of Physical Chemistry. The issue published in March.
The Computational and Theoretical research group, called CATCO for short, is a union of computational and theoretical chemistry scientists at SMU. Their focus is research in computational chemistry, educating and training graduate and undergraduate students, disseminating and explaining results of their research to the broader public, and programming computers for the calculation of molecules and molecular aggregates.
The special issue of Physical Chemistry included 40 contributions from participants of a four-day conference in Dallas in March 2014 that was hosted by CATCO. The 25th Austin Symposium drew 108 participants from 22 different countries who, combined, presented eight plenary talks, 60 lectures and about 40 posters.
CATCO presented its research with contributions from Cremer and Kraka, as well as Marek Freindorf, research assistant professor; Wenli Zou, visiting professor; Robert Kalescky, post-doctoral fellow; and graduate students Alan Humason, Thomas Sexton, Dani Setlawan and Vytor Oliveira.
There have been more than 75 graduate students and research associates working in the CATCO group, which originally was formed at the University of Cologne, Germany, before moving to SMU in 2009.
Vertebrate paleontology recognized with proclamation
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings proclaimed Oct. 11-17, 2015 Vertebrate Paleontology week in Dallas on behalf of the Dallas City Council.
The proclamation honored the 75th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, which was jointly hosted by SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in Dedman College and the Perot Museum of Science and Nature. The conference drew to Dallas some 1,200 scientists from around the world.
Making research presentations or presenting research posters were: faculty members Bonnie Jacobs, Louis Jacobs, Michael Polcyn, Neil Tabor and Dale Winkler; adjunct research assistant professor Alisa Winkler; research staff member Kurt Ferguson; post-doctoral researchers T. Scott Myers and Lauren Michael; and graduate students Matthew Clemens, John Graf, Gary Johnson and Kate Andrzejewski.
The host committee co-chairs were Anthony Fiorillo, adjunct research professor; and Louis Jacobs, professor. Committee members included Polcyn; Christopher Strganac, graduate student; Diana Vineyard, research associate; and research professor Dale Winkler.
KERA radio reporter Kat Chow filed a report from the conference, explaining to listeners the science of vertebrate paleontology, which exposes the past, present and future of life on earth by studying fossils of animals that had backbones.
SMU earthquake scientists rock scientific journal
Findings by the SMU earthquake team reverberated across the nation with publication of their scientific article in the prestigious British interdisciplinary journal Nature, ranked as one of the world’s most cited scientific journals.
The article reported that the SMU-led seismology team found that high volumes of wastewater injection combined with saltwater extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause of unusually frequent earthquakes occurring in the Dallas-Fort Worth area near the small community of Azle.
The research was the work of Dedman College faculty Matthew Hornbach, associate professor of geophysics; Heather DeShon, associate professor of geophysics; Brian Stump, SMU Albritton Chair in Earth Sciences; Chris Hayward, research staff and director geophysics research program; and Beatrice Magnani, associate professor of geophysics.
The article, “Causal factors for seismicity near Azle, Texas,” published online in late April. Already the article has been downloaded nearly 6,000 times, and heavily shared on both social and conventional media. The article has achieved a ranking of 270, which puts it in the 99th percentile of 144,972 tracked articles of a similar age in all journals, and 98th percentile of 626 tracked articles of a similar age in Nature.
The scientific article also was entered into the record for public hearings both at the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity.
Researchers settle long-debated heritage question of “The Ancient One”
The research of Dedman College anthropologist and Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory David Meltzer played a role in settling the long-debated and highly controversial heritage of “Kennewick Man.”
Also known as “The Ancient One,” the 8,400-year-old male skeleton discovered in Washington state has been the subject of debate for nearly two decades. Argument over his ancestry has gained him notoriety in high-profile newspaper and magazine articles, as well as making him the subject of intense scholarly study.
Officially the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kennewick Man was discovered in 1996 and radiocarbon dated to 8500 years ago.
Because of his cranial shape and size he was declared not Native American but instead ‘Caucasoid,’ implying a very different population had once been in the Americas, one that was unrelated to contemporary Native Americans.
But Native Americans long have claimed Kennewick Man as theirs and had asked for repatriation of his remains for burial according to their customs.
Meltzer, collaborating with his geneticist colleague Eske Willerslev and his team at the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, in June reported the results of their analysis of the DNA of Kennewick in the prestigious British journal Nature in the scientific paper “The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man.”
The results were announced at a news conference, settling the question based on first-ever DNA evidence: Kennewick Man is Native American.
Science named the Kennewick work one of its nine runners-up in the highly esteemed magazine’s annual “Breakthrough of the Year” competition.
The research article has been viewed more than 60,000 times. It has achieved a ranking of 665, which puts it in the 99th percentile of 169,466 tracked articles of a similar age in all journals, and in the 94th percentile of 958 tracked articles of a similar age in Nature.
In “Kennewick Man: coming to closure,” an article in the December issue of Antiquity, a journal of Cambridge University Press, Meltzer noted that the DNA merely confirmed what the tribes had known all along: “We are him, he is us,” said one tribal spokesman. Meltzer concludes: “We presented the DNA evidence. The tribal members gave it meaning.”
The new species, dubbed a prehistoric hoover by London’s Daily Mail online news site, was identified by SMU paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, and paleontologist and SMU adjunct research professor Anthony Fiorillo, vice president of research and collections and chief curator at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
Jacobs and Fiorillo co-authored a study about the identification of new fossils from the oddball creature Desmostylia, discovered in the same waters where the popular “Deadliest Catch” TV show is filmed. The hippo-like creature ate like a vacuum cleaner and is a new genus and species of the only order of marine mammals ever to go extinct — surviving a mere 23 million years.
Desmostylians, every single species combined, lived in an interval between 33 million and 10 million years ago. Their strange columnar teeth and odd style of eating don’t occur in any other animal, Jacobs said.
As noted by the CERN Courier — the news magazine of the CERN Laboratory in Geneva, which hosts the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest science experiment — more than 250 scientists from 30 countries presented more than 200 talks on a multitude of subjects relevant to experimental and theoretical research. SMU physicists presented at the conference.
The SMU organizing committee was led by Fred Olness, professor and chair of the SMU Department of Physics in Dedman College, who also gave opening and closing remarks at the conference. The committee consisted of other SMU faculty, including Jodi Cooley, associate professor; Simon Dalley, senior lecturer; Robert Kehoe, professor; Pavel Nadolsky, associate professor, who also presented progress on experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider; Randy Scalise, senior lecturer; and Stephen Sekula, associate professor.
Sekula also organized a series of short talks for the public about physics and the big questions that face us as we try to understand our universe.
“No significant signs of new physics with the present data yet but it takes only one significant deviation in the data to change everything.” — Albert De Roeck, CERN
First collisions of protons at the world’s largest science experiment are expected to start the first or second week of June, according to a senior research scientist with CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.
“It will be about another six weeks to commission the machine, and many things can still happen on the way,” said physicist Albert De Roeck, a staff member at CERN and a professor at the University of Antwerp, Belgium and UC Davis, California. De Roeck is a leading scientist on CMS, one of the Large Hadron Collider’s key experiments.
The LHC in early April was restarted for its second three-year run after a two-year pause to upgrade the machine to operate at higher energies. At higher energy, physicists worldwide expect to see new discoveries about the laws that govern our natural universe.
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De Roeck made the comments Monday while speaking during an international meeting of more than 250 physicists from 30 countries on the campus of Southern Methodist University, Dallas.
“There are no significant signs of new physics yet,” De Roeck said of the data from the first run, adding however that especially SUSY diehards — physicists who predict the existence of a unique new theory of space and time called SuperSymmetry — maintain hopes of seeing evidence soon of that theory.
De Roeck in fact has high expectations for the possibility of new discoveries that could change the current accepted theory of physical reality, the Standard Model.
“It will take only one significant deviation in the data to change everything,” De Roeck said. “The upgraded machine works. Now we have to get to the real operation for physics.”
“Unidentified Lying Object” not a problem — remains stable
But work remains to be done. One issue the accelerator physicists remain cautiously aware of, he said, is an “Unidentified Lying Object” in the beam pipe of the LHC’s 17-mile underground tunnel, a vacuum tube where proton beams collide and scatter particles that scientists then analyze for keys to unlock the mysteries of the Big Bang and the cosmos.
Because the proton beam is sensitive to the geometry of the environment and can be easily blocked, the beam pipe must be free of even the tiniest amount of debris. Even something as large as a nitrogen particle could disrupt the beam. Because the beam pipe is a sealed vacuum it’s impossible to know what the “object” is.
“The unidentified lying object turns out not to be a problem for the operation, it’s just something to keep an eye on,” De Roeck said. “It’s in the vacuum tube and it’s not a problem if it doesn’t move and remains stable.”
The world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider made headlines when its global collaboration of thousands of scientists in 2012 observed a new fundamental particle, the Higgs boson. After that, the collider was paused for the extensive upgrade. Much more powerful than before, as part of Run 2 physicists on the Large Hadron Collider’s experiments are analyzing new proton collision data to unravel the structure of the Higgs.
The Large Hadron Collider straddles the border between France and Switzerland. Its first run began in 2009, led by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, through an international consortium of thousands of scientists.
Particle discoveries unlock mysteries of cosmos, pave way for new technology
The workshop in Dallas, the “2015 International Workshop on Deep-Inelastic Scattering,” draws the world’s leading scientists each year to an international city for nuts and bolts talks that drive the world’s leading-edge physics experiments, such as the Large Hadron Collider.
Going into the second run, De Roeck said physicists will continue to look for anomalies, unexpected decay modes or couplings, multi-Higgs production, or larger decay rates than expected, among other things.
Particle discoveries by physicists resolve mysteries, such as questions surrounding Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and the earliest moments of the Big Bang. But particle discoveries also are ultimately applied to other fields to improve everyday life, such as medical technologies like MRIs and PET scans, which diagnose and treat cancer.
For example, proton therapy is the newest non-invasive, precision scalpel in the fight against cancer, with new centers opening all over the world.
The workshop is sponsored by SMU, U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, CERN, National Science Foundation, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, DESY national research center and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. — Margaret Allen
SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.
SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.
New launch of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator is the most stringent test yet of our accepted theories of how subatomic particles work and interact.
Start up of the world’s largest science experiment is underway — with protons traveling in opposite directions at almost the speed of light in the deep underground tunnel called the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva.
As protons collide, physicists will peer into the resulting particle showers for new discoveries about the universe, said Ryszard Stroynowski, a collaborator on one of the collider’s key experiments and a professor in the Department of Physics at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.
“The hoopla and enthusiastic articles generated by discovery of the Higgs boson two years ago left an impression among many people that we have succeeded, we are done, we understand everything,” said Stroynowski, who is the senior member of SMU’s Large Hadron Collider team. “The reality is far from this. The only thing that we have found is that Higgs exist and therefore the Higgs mechanism of generating the mass of fundamental particles is possible.”
There is much more to be learned during Run 2 of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator.
“In a way we kicked a can down the road because we still do not have sufficient precision to know where to look for the really, really new physics that is suggested by astronomical observations,” he said. “The observed facts that are not explained by current theory are many.”
The LHC’s control room in Geneva on April 5 restarted the Large Hadron Collider. A project of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the 17-mile LHC tunnel — big enough to ride a bicycle through — straddles the border between France and Switzerland.
Two years ago it made headlines worldwide when its global collaboration of thousands of scientists discovered the Higgs Boson fundamental particle.
The Large Hadron Collider’s first run began in 2009. In 2012 it was paused for an extensive upgrade.
The new upgraded and supercharged LHC restarts at almost twice the energy and higher intensity than it was operating at previously, so it will deliver much more data.
“I think that in the LHC Run 2 we will sieve through more data than in all particle physics experiments in the world together for the past 50 years,” Stroynowski said. “Nature would be really strange if we do not find something new.”
SMU is active on the LHC’s ATLAS detector experiment Within the big LHC tunnel, gigantic particle detectors at four interaction points along the ring record the proton collisions that are generated when the beams collide.
In routine operation, protons make 11,245 laps of the LHC per second — producing up to 1 billion collisions per second. With that many collisions, each detector captures collision events 40 million times each second.
Evaluating that much data isn’t humanly possible, so a computerized ATLAS hardware “trigger system” grabs the data, makes a fast evaluation, decides if it might hold something of interest to physicists, than quickly discards or saves it.
“That gets rid of 99.999 percent of the data,” Kehoe said. “This trigger hardware system makes measurements — but they are very crude, fast and primitive.”
To further pare down the data, a custom-designed software program culls even more data from each nano-second grab, reducing 40 million events down to 200.
Two groups from SMU, one led by Kehoe, helped develop software to monitor the performance of the trigger systems’ thousands of computer processors.
“The software program has to be accurate in deciding which 200 to keep. We must be very careful that it’s the right 200 — the 200 that might tell us more about the Higgs boson, for example. If it’s not the right 200, then we can’t achieve our scientific goals.”
The ATLAS computers are part of CERN’s computing center, which stores more than 30 petabytes of data from the LHC experiments every year, the equivalent of 1.2 million Blu-ray discs.
Flood of data from ATLAS transmitted via tiny electronics designed at SMU to withstand harsh conditions
An SMU physics team also collaborates on the design, construction and delivery of the ATLAS “readout” system — an electronic system within the ATLAS trigger system that sends collision data from ATLAS to its data processing farm.
Data from the ATLAS particle detector’s Liquid Argon Calorimeter is transmitted via 1,524 small fiber-optic transmitters. A powerful and reliable workhorse, the link is one of thousands of critical components on the LHC that contributed to discovery and precision measurement of the Higgs boson.
The custom-made high-speed data transmitters were designed to withstand extremely harsh conditions — low temperature and high radiation.
“It’s not always a smooth ride operating electronics in such a harsh environment,” said Jingbo Ye, the physics professor who leads the SMU data-link team. “Failure of any transmitter results in the loss of a chunk of valuable data. We’re working to improve the design for future detectors because by 2017 and 2018, the existing optical data-link design won’t be able to carry all the data.”
Each electrical-to-optical and optical-to-electrical signal converter transmits 1.6 gigabytes of data per second. Lighter and smaller than their widely used commercial counterpart, the tiny, wickedly fast transmitters have been transmitting from the Liquid Argon Calorimeter for about 10 years.
Upgraded optical data link is now in the works to accommodate beefed-up data flow
A more powerful data link — much smaller and faster than the current one — is in research and development now. Slated for installation in 2017, it has the capacity to deliver 5.2 gigabytes of data per second.
The new link’s design has been even more challenging than the first, Ye said. It has a smaller footprint than the first, but handles more data, while at the same time maintaining the existing power supply and heat exchanger now in the ATLAS detector.
The link will have the highest data density in the world of any data link based on the transmitter optical subassembly TOSA, a standard industrial package, Ye said.
Fine-tuning the new, upgraded machine will take several weeks
The world’s most powerful machine for smashing protons together will require some “tuning” before physicists from around the world are ready to take data, said Stephen Sekula, a researcher on ATLAS and assistant professor of physics at SMU.
The trick is to get reliable, stable beams that can remain in collision state for 8 to 12 to 24 hours at a time, so that the particle physicists working on the experiments, who prize stability, will be satisfied with the quality of the beam conditions being delivered to them, Sekula said.
“The LHC isn’t a toaster,” he said. “We’re not stamping thousands of them out of a factory every day, there’s only one of them on the planet and when you upgrade it it’s a new piece of equipment with new idiosyncrasies, so there’s no guarantee it will behave as it did before.”
Machine physicists at CERN must learn the nuances of the upgraded machine, he said. The beam must be stable, so physicists on shifts in the control room can take high-quality data under stable operating conditions.
The process will take weeks, Sekula said.
10 times as many Higgs particles means a flood of data to sift for gems
LHC Run 2 will collide particles at a staggering 13 teraelectronvolts (TeV), which is 60 percent higher than any accelerator has achieved before.
“On paper, Run 2 will give us four times more data than we took on Run 1,” Sekula said. “But each of those multiples of data are actually worth more. Because not only are we going to take more collisions, we’re going to do it at a higher energy. When you do more collisions and you do them at a higher energy, the rate at which you make Higgs Bosons goes way up. We’re going to get 10 times more Higgs than we did in run 1 — at least.”
SMU’s ManeFrame supercomputer plays a key role in helping physicists from the Large Hadron Collider experiments. One of the fastest academic supercomputers in the nation, it allows physicists at SMU and around the world to sift through the flood of data, quickly analyze massive amounts of information, and deliver results to the collaborating scientists.
During Run 1, the LHC delivered about 8,500 Higgs particles a week to the scientists, but also delivered a huge number of other kinds of particles that have to be sifted away to find the Higgs particles. Run 2 will make 10 times that, Sekula said. “So they’ll rain from the sky. And with more Higgs, we’ll have an easier time sifting the gems out of the gravel.”
Run 2 will operate at the energy originally intended for Run 1, which was initially stalled by a faulty electrical connection on some superconducting magnets in a sector of the tunnel. Machine physicists were able to get the machine running — just never at full power. And still the Higgs was discovered, notes SMU physics professor Fredrick Olness.
“The 2008 magnet accident at the LHC underscores just how complex a machine this is,” Olness said. “We are pushing the technology to the cutting-edge.”
Huge possibilities for new discoveries, but some will be more important than others
There are a handful of major new discoveries that could emerge from Run 2 data, Stroynowski said.
New physics laws related to Higgs — Physicists know only global Higgs properties, many with very poor understanding. They will be measuring Higgs properties with much greater precision, and any deviation from the present picture will indicate new physics laws. “Improved precision is the only guaranteed outcome of the coming run,” Stroynowski said. “But of course we hope that not everything will be as expected. Any deviation may be due to supersymmetry or something completely new.”
Why basic particles have such a huge range of masses — Clarity achieved by precision measurements of Higgs properties may help to shed light on the exact reason for the pattern of masses found in the known fundamental particles. If new particles are discovered in the LHC during Run 2, the mathematical theories that could explain them might also shed light on the puzzle of why masses have such diversity in the building blocks of nature
Dark matter — Astronomical observations require a new form of matter that acts only via gravity, otherwise all galaxies would have fallen apart a long time ago. One candidate theory is supersymmetry, which predicts a host of new particles. Some of those particles, if they exist, would fit the characteristics of dark matter. LHC scientists will be looking for them in the coming run both directly, and for indirect effects.
Quark gluon plasma — In collisions of lead nuclei with each other, LHC scientists have observed a new form of matter called quark gluon plasma. Thought to have been present in the cosmos near the very beginning of time, making and studying this state of matter could teach us more about the early, hot, dense universe.
Mini black-holes — Some scientists are looking for “mini black-holes” predicted by innovative physicist Stephen Hawking, but that is considered “a v-e-e-e-e-r-y long shot,” Stroynowski said.
Matter-antimatter — A cosmic imbalance in the amounts of matter and its opposite, antimatter, must be explained by particle physics. The LHC is home to several experiments and teams that aim to search for answers.
SMU’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.”
In the 1960s, Higgs and Englert, along with other theorists, including Robert Brout, Tom Kibble and Americans Carl Hagen and Gerald Guralnik, published papers introducing key concepts in the theory of the Higgs field. In 2012, scientists on the international ATLAS and CMS experiments, performed at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN laboratory in Europe, confirmed this theory when they announced the discovery of the Higgs boson.
“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.
SMU joins nearly 2,000 physicists from U.S. institutions — including 89 U.S. universities and seven U.S. Department of Energy laboratories — that participate in the ATLAS and CMS experiments, making up about 23 percent of the ATLAS collaboration and 33 percent of CMS at the time of the Higgs discovery. Brookhaven National Laboratory serves as the U.S. hub for the ATLAS experiment, and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory serves as the U.S. hub for the CMS experiment. U.S. scientists provided a significant portion of the intellectual leadership on Higgs analysis teams for both experiments.
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.
“It is an honor that the Nobel Committee recognizes these theorists for their role in predicting what is one of the biggest discoveries in particle physics in the last few decades,” said Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer. “I congratulate the whole particle physics community for this achievement.”
The majority of U.S. scientists participating in LHC experiments work primarily from their home institutions, remotely accessing and analyzing data through high-capacity networks and grid computing. The United States plays an important role in this distributed computing system, providing 23 percent of the computing power for ATLAS and 40 percent for CMS. The United States also supplied or played a leading role in several main components of the two detectors and the LHC accelerator, amounting to a value of $164 million for the ATLAS detector, $167 million for the CMS detector, and $200 million for the LHC. Support for the U.S. effort comes from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Science Foundation.
“It’s wonderful to see a 50-year-old theory confirmed after decades of hard work and remarkable ingenuity,” said Brookhaven National Laboratory Director Doon Gibbs. “The U.S. has played a key role, contributing scientific and technical expertise along with essential computing and data analysis capabilities — all of which were necessary to bring the Higgs out of hiding. It’s a privilege to share in the success of an experiment that has changed the face of science.”
The discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN was the culmination of decades of effort by physicists and engineers around the world, at the LHC but also at other accelerators such as the Tevatron accelerator, located at Fermilab, and the Large Electron Positron accelerator, which once inhabited the tunnel where the LHC resides. Work by scientists at the Tevatron and LEP developed search techniques and eliminated a significant fraction of the space in which the Higgs boson could hide.
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 and Daniel Goldin.
SMU has awarded eight Ph.D. and seven M.Sc. 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.”
Higgs and Englert published their papers independently and did not meet in person until the July 4, 2012, announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN. Higgs, 84, is a professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Englert, 80, is a professor emeritus at Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.
The prize was announced at 5:45 a.m. CDT on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013.
SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.
SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.
Physicists from SMU and around the globe were euphoric Wednesday with the revelation that a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson “God particle” has been observed.
Described as a great triumph for science, the observation is the biggest physics discovery of the last 50 years and opens what scientists said is a vast new frontier for more research.
The achievement is the result of the global CERN scientific collaboration of thousands of scientists, including physicists from SMU, and CERN’s massive $10 billion Large Hadron Collider proton smasher.
“The observation opens up clear directions for physicists at SMU and throughout the world to study the properties of the Higgs,” said SMU physicist Ryszard Stroynowski, a principal investigator in the search for the Higgs and the leader of SMU’s team from the Department of Physics on the experiment.
“The experimental physics group at SMU has been involved since 1994 and is a major contributor to this study. This discovery was many years in the making, but it was worth the wait,” Stroynowski said.
The results, which are preliminary, were announced at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, Switzerland, and at the International Conference of High Energy Physics in Melbourne, Australia.
SMU at CERN
SMU researchers at CERN for the Higgs unveiling included Tingting Cao, Renat Ishmukhatemov, Aidan Randle-Conde, Stephen Sekula and Julia Hoffman. (Credit: Tingting Cao)
SMU Dean of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences William M. Tsutsui noted that the crucial work contributed by SMU scientists gives Dallas standing in the discovery.
“Although the world’s eyes are on Switzerland, it is important to remember how much of the expertise driving the revolutionary experiments at CERN came from right here in Dallas,” Tsutsui said. “Distinguished scholars in Dedman College’s Department of Physics, including Ryszard Stroynowski and Jingbo Ye, have played critical roles in the search for the tiniest and most elusive building blocks of the universe.”
Observation is culmination of nearly 50 years of research In making the announcement, CERN’s scientists stopped short of declaring the new particle the Higgs, saying they will further analyze the data to see whether it is the Higgs boson as originally theorized more than 40 years ago, but which has never been observed through experiments.
A Higgs particle is necessary to round out the fundamental particles that make up physics’ Standard Model, which describes the fundamental particles and their interactions.
Without a Higgs, the Standard Model does not fully explain how the universe emerged from the Big Bang. The Higgs explains how matter acquires mass.
CERN’s Large Hadron Collider along the border of France and Switzerland made it possible to observe evidence of the Higgs by smashing together protons at high energies so their breakup replicates the Big Bang. The LHC, which took a decade to build, started operation in 2010. It is home to the largest high-energy physics experiments in the world, including the ATLAS and CMS particle detectors, which supplied the data for Wednesday’s results.
Scientists from 45 collaborating nations work on the LHC experiments, including more than 1,700 from 89 U.S. universities. They have helped design, build and operate the LHC accelerator and its particle detectors.
LHC’s data equivalent to grains of sand needed to fill Olympic-size pool The LHC is a 17-mile tunnel some 100 meters below ground. Within the tunnel, billions of protons are sent hurling into one another to re-create the high-energy explosions present at the Big Bang. In those rare instances when protons collide in the LHC tunnel, the smashing protons break up into smaller particles. In a process akin to reverse engineering, the resulting particle sprays are captured as data that are then analyzed for evidence that they emerged from the fundamental Higgs.
In announcing the results, CERN scientists said data taken the past two years represent 500 trillion collisions. That equates to the grains of sand it would take to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. Within that data, evidence pointing to the Higgs equals an amount of sand covering the tip of a finger, they said.
Discovery made possible by global supercomputing grid that includes SMU Credit for the discovery goes not only to the scientists and to CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, but also to a vast worldwide computing grid at partnering institutions. Physicists rely on supercomputers to assist their analysis of the massive flow of raw data containing the Higgs.
The SMU High-Performance Computing system is part of that grid and routinely runs data that contributed to the observation, Stroynowski said.
“Much of the success of our small group in the highly competitive environment of a large international collaboration has been due to an easy access and superb performance of the SMU High Performance Computing system,” Stroynowski said. “We used the HPC for fast data analyses and complex calculations needed for the discovery.”
Discovery of the new particle demonstrates the importance of basic research, said James Quick, associate vice president for research at SMU and dean of graduate studies.
“SMU is proud and excited that its Department of Physics has been an active participant in this effort and looks forward to the department’s continued participation at CERN,” he said. “Launched by a federal research project sponsored by Congressman Pete Sessions, high-performance computing at SMU played a role in the Higgs discovery and is a primary focus in the university’s drive to expand research and enhance education.”
Discovery is once-in-a-lifetime milestone for SMU researchers SMU researchers contribute to the experiment through hardware and software development, as well as by taking operations shifts, both in the control room and in the United States, by remote, and through review of their colleagues’ work.
“It’s a very happy day for all of us in particle physics,” said Nadolsky, who with other physicists contributed calculations extensively used by LHC experimentalists, including for discovery of the Higgs boson candidate and for ongoing analyses to establish the properties of the new particle. Those working with him include postdoctoral researchers Marco Guzzi and Jun Gao, graduate student Zhihua Liang, and senior lecturer Simon Dalley.
Other researchers who have participated on the SMU team include Ana Firan, Haleh Hadavand, Sami Kama, Aidan Randle-Conde, Peter Renkel, Rozmin Daya, Renat Ishmukhametov, Tingting Cao and Kamile Dindar-Yagci.
Electronics development was carried out by research professors Andy Liu and Annie Xiang, with computer support by Justin Ross.
“The discovery of the Higgs is a once-in-a-lifetime event; this is the culmination of a 50-year quest,” said Olness, chair of the SMU Physics Department. “The last time a discovery of this import occurred was in 1983 with the observation of the W and Z boson — also at CERN; this achievement was recognized with the 1984 Nobel Prize. Many speculate the discovery of the Higgs boson also merits a Nobel Prize.”
The vast majority of U.S. scientists participate in the LHC experiments from their home institutions, remotely accessing and analyzing the data through high-capacity networks and grid computing.
“The results released on July 4 are truly a ‘team effort,’ not just by SMU but throughout all of ATLAS,” said Sekula, assistant physics professor. “These results are not possible without both the cooperation and competition that are needed to drive scientific innovation and progress.”
Waiting for Higgs for more than half a century Physicists theorized in 1964 the existence of a new particle, now known as the Higgs, whose coupling with other particles would determine their mass.
SMU’s Kehoe said the observation changes our view of the universe. “It further transforms our daily experience of mass, which is hard and heavy, into the ghostly world of quantum mechanical interactions,” Kehoe said. “If what we are seeing is the Higgs particle, we will have identified the last unknown particle in the Standard Model.”
The Standard Model of particle physics has proved to explain correctly the elementary particles and forces of nature through more than four decades of experimental tests. But it cannot, without the Higgs boson, explain how most of these particles acquire their mass, a key ingredient in the formation of our universe.
CERN reported that both the ATLAS and CMS experiments within the LHC independently observed the new heavy particle in the mass region around 125-126 billion electron volts.
“So far, more than one study indicates an excess, but by a bit more than expected,” Kehoe said. “And the mass is in the range predicted for a Standard Model Higgs. However, measurements from other analyses need also to be brought to bear.”
The preliminary results announced Wednesday are based on data collected in 2011 and 2012, with the 2012 data still under analysis. A more complete picture will emerge later this year after the LHC provides more data.
Scientists to gather more data to learn about new particle Sekula, who was at CERN and live-blogged Wednesday’s announcement, reported that “the atmosphere in the Main Amphitheater at CERN was electric, and all this energy burst forth in thunderous applause when first CMS, then ATLAS, showed independent and overwhelming evidence for the existence of a new particle in nature, consistent with the Higgs particle. Decades of scientific hope and frustration suddenly turned to joy and excitement — I can only imagine what the future holds as we gather more data and learn more about this particle.”
The CMS and ATLAS experiments in December announced seeing tantalizing hints of a new particle in their hunt for the Higgs. Since resuming data-taking in March 2012, the CMS and ATLAS experiments have more than doubled their collected data.
In the future, physicists will have to determine the properties of the new particle.
“How much does it weigh precisely? What are its quantum mechanical properties?” Kehoe said. “There are several theories that are consistent with what we’ve seen so far, like the theory of supersymmetry, and we need to make careful measurements to tell which one is correct. If what we’re seeing is a new type of particle that only superficially resembles the Higgs right now, then this will revolutionize our understanding of matter and energy at a fundamental level.” — Margaret Allen, CERN, Fermilab
SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smuresearch.com.
SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the SMU Broadcast Studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.
Subatomic particle can explain why matter has mass
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. (article continued below)
“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” — physicist Richard Feynman
By Fredrick Olness
Chairman and Professor
SMU Department of Physics
A 50 year search for the origin of particle mass nears an end. Maybe.
Mass is a seemingly simple property of everyday objects — atoms, humans, coffee cups. Yet, to understand the origin of mass on a fundamental level has been a challenging problem with a long history. The solution to this problem, suggested nearly 50 years ago, was the Higgs Boson (or just Higgs, for short). However, it has yet to be discovered.
On Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011, an end to the Higgs search appeared much closer when the CERN Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland presented the latest results from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in a colloquium broadcast around the globe on the World Wide Web.
The announcement was a joint presentation by researchers from ATLAS and CMS, the two largest independent experiments at the LHC, in which they presented evidence for the Higgs based on the results of their 2011 data set.
Both the ATLAS and CMS experiments observed evidence for the Higgs. While the evidence was significant, it was not yet sufficient to claim an unambiguous discovery; however, it is quite compelling that the Higgs mass range obtained by these two independent experiments is consistent.
These results represent a tremendous step forward in explaining why fundamental particles have mass, and whether the Higgs exists.
What is the Higgs boson?
The postulated Higgs boson is responsible for giving mass to the many fundamental particles that make up the universe. This includes the quarks that comprise protons and neutrons, which comprise atoms and molecules, which comprise humans and everything around them. In essence, the Higgs generates the mass of the fundamental particles that make up you and your coffee cup.
We know objects have mass — just lift a heavy suitcase or weigh yourself on a scale. But to explain this seemingly simple idea in the context of our current fundamental theories has been a struggle ever since the idea of the Higgs was introduced 50 year ago. The problem is that to give particles mass in a straightforward manner would spoil a particular symmetry of the theory known as the “gauge symmetry.” Who cares? you ask, and why should I be worried about symmetry?
Symmetries have been an important guiding aspect of physics dating back before Einstein, who used symmetry principles, in part, to conclude that “all reference frames are created equal,” which led to his Theory of Relativity — certainly one of the triumphs of the 20th Century.
And that is what is so special about the Higgs; it gives particles a mass without violating the rules of symmetry.
How does the Higgs solve the problem?
According to our current understanding, Higgs bosons permeate all of space. As fundamental particles move through space, Higgs bosons interact with the particles and effectively exert a drag on them; it is this drag effect which we interpret as the mass of the particle.
Consider the following experiment. First move your coffee cup through the air, and then repeat this motion underwater; the water provides more resistance on the cup and it “feels more massive” as you drag it through the water as compared to the air. It is the interaction between the water and the coffee cup that provides the resistance to motion of mass. In this analogy, the water is playing the role of the Higgs.
It is the same with a quark, one of the fundamental particles that matter is made from. As a quark moves through space it interacts with the Higgs, and this interaction exerts a drag on the quark so that it “feels heavy.” But this is an illusion; in the strict interpretation of the theory, the quark has “mass” only because of the interaction with the Higgs that simulates the effects of the weight.
DÉJÀ VU: Luminiferous aether
To recap, the current theoretical picture is that Higgs bosons are everywhere. They permeate all space, and they must exist so that fundamental particles (that make up you and your coffee cup) have mass.
Have we seen this situation before?
In the late 1800’s, physicists posited the existence of a “luminiferous aether” which permeated all space. Scientists knew that water waves traveled through water, sound waves through air, and so they believed that light waves also needed something to travel through; luminiferous aether was invented to serve this purpose and get the “right” answer. There were many experiments that gave indirect evidence for the aether; however, all attempts to directly measure it were unsuccessful. Eventually it was demonstrated that the luminiferous aether did not exist, and this paved the way for Einstein to show that it was unnecessary and to present an alternative, his theory of relativity.
Thus, the non-existence of luminiferous aether actually led to more fantastic discoveries than if it had been proven.
Direct vs. indirect evidence
So we come to the central question: does the Higgs exist?
There is ample indirect evidence that the Higgs exists. We know that fundamental particles have mass, and we believe this mass is due to particle interactions with Higgs bosons. Over the past 50 years physicists have performed a variety of sophisticated experiments, and they all point to the existence of the Higgs.
However, in many ways the Higgs is a contrived solution; inelegant, introduced into the theory because so far there has been no better way to get the right answer — that particles have mass.
Just because it is currently the only solution developed does not mean it is the one that nature chooses.
And that is why we need direct evidence of the Higgs; we need to produce an actual Higgs in the laboratory, study its properties, and verify our theoretical view of the world with cold, hard facts from experimental observation.
The 2011 LHC results
The LHC experiment is producing these facts and evidence.
If the Higgs is confirmed to exist, it would validate our theory of how particles acquire mass, and serve as the foundation for myriad experiments in the future. Many speculate this discovery would also warrant a Nobel Prize.
If the Higgs is confirmed to not exist, it would likely send many theorists back to the drawing board in hopes of finding that nature has an even more clever mechanism of how particles acquire mass than we have yet been capable of conceiving. And, just as the non-existence of the aether set the stage for relativity, the non-existence of the Higgs could set the stage for future surprises.
Either way it will be an exciting journey and the results from the LHC bring us one step closer to the answer.
Fredrick Olness is a theoretical physicist at SMU studying Quantum Chromodynamics (the fundamental force that binds nuclei) to help answer the questions: What are the fundamental building blocks of nature, and what holds them together?
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.
Higgs: Attempting to discover Standard Model’s missing piece
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.”
SMU researchers contributed to the results announced Tuesday by CERN
Besides Stroynowski, the SMU team of researchers includes three other Physics Department faculty: Jingbo Ye, Robert 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.
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.
“Professor Stroynowski has demonstrated extraordinary scientific leadership in keeping our relatively small Department of Physics at SMU engaged in one of the most significant scientific experiments of our time,” said Jim Quick, SMU Associate Vice President for Research.
SMU’s role in the LHC experiments provides SMU students a chance to participate in pioneering discoveries, said Olness.
“SMU students helped build the ATLAS detector, they were in the control room when the experiment started up, and they contributed to the analysis,” he said. “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.”
Higgs discovery would confirm decades-old theory
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 Robert 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.’”
Even if the LHC experiments find a particle where they expect to find the Higgs, it will take more analysis and more data to prove it is a Standard Model Higgs, according to CERN researchers. If scientists found subtle departures from the Standard Model in the particle’s behavior, this would point to the presence of new physics, linked to theories that go beyond the Standard Model. Observing a non-Standard Model Higgs, currently beyond the reach of the LHC experiments with the data they’ve recorded so far, would immediately open the door to new physics, said an official statement from CERN.
Results constrain Higgs’ mass to a range more limited than before
In announcing the findings, CERN noted that two experiments at the LHC have nearly eliminated the space in which the Higgs boson could dwell. The ATLAS and CMS experiments see modest excesses in their data that could soon uncover the famous missing piece of the physics puzzle, the scientists said.
The experiments’ main conclusion is that the Standard Model Higgs boson, if it exists, is most likely to have a mass constrained to the range 116-130 giga-electron-volts (GeV) by the ATLAS experiment, and 115-127 GeV by CMS. Tantalizing hints have been seen by both experiments in this mass region, but these are not yet strong enough to claim a discovery.
Both ATLAS and CMS have analyzed several decay channels, and the experiments see small excesses in the low mass region that has not yet been excluded.
Taken individually, none of these excesses is any more statistically significant than rolling a die and coming up with two sixes in a row. What is interesting is that there are multiple independent measurements pointing to the region of 124 to 126 GeV. It’s far too early to say whether ATLAS and CMS have discovered the Higgs boson, but these updated results are generating a lot of interest in the particle physics community.
The experiments revealed the latest results as part of their regular report to the CERN Council, which provides oversight for the laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland.
Experiments in coming months will refine the analysis
More than 1,600 scientists, students, engineers and technicians from more than 90 U.S. universities and five U.S. national laboratories take part in the ATLAS and CMS experiments. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the National Science Foundation provide support for U.S. participation in these experiments.
Over the coming months, both the ATLAS and CMS experiments will focus on refining their analyses in time for the winter particle physics conferences in March. The experiments will resume taking data in spring 2012.
Another possibility, discovering the absence of a Standard Model Higgs, would point to new physics at the LHC’s full design energy, set to be achieved after 2014. Whether ATLAS and CMS show over the coming months that the Standard Model Higgs boson exists or not, the LHC program is closing in on new discoveries. — CERN, Southern Methodist University
SMU is a member of the ATLAS experiment at the LHC. It takes a large team of scientists to search for the Higgs and other new physics; the SMU delegation includes faculty members Ryszard Stroynowski, Jingbo Ye, Robert Kehoe, Stephen Sekula, and a number of research professors, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students.
In addition, recent SMU ATLAS contributors include postdoctoral fellows Julia Hoffman, David Joffe (now at Kennesaw State), Ana Firan, Haleh Hadavand, Sami Kama, Aidan Randle-Conde and Peter Renkel, and graduate students Ryan Rios, Rozmin Daya, Renat Ishmukhametov Tingting Cao and Kamile Dindar-Yagci. Theoretical support was provided by faculty member Pavel Nadolsky, electronics development by research professors Andy Liu and Annie Xiang, and computer support by Justin Ross.