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University physicists play key role in search for Higgs boson

Roger Rusack at the CMS experiment at CERN


For more than two decades, physicists have been preparing a search for the Higgs boson—the theoretical particle that provides mass to the basic building blocks of matter and the last missing ingredient of the Standard Model of particle physics. Discovery of the Higgs boson could help scientists answer questions surrounding what the Universe is made of, what forces act within it and what gives matter substance.

Researchers from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced that they have indeed observed a new particle. Whether the particle has the properties of the predicted Higgs boson remains to be seen. CERN states: “Positive identification of the new particle’s characteristics will take considerable time and data. But whatever form the Higgs particle takes, our knowledge of the fundamental structure of matter is about to take a major step forward.”

University of Minnesota physicists play key role in search for Higgs boson CERN scientists announce observation of a new particle. The search for the Higgs boson escalated in 2008 with the completion of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. Today, the LHC collides protons head-on at close to the speed of light; particles created by these collisions are analyzed by physicists working on the ATLAS and CMS experiments.

Physics professor Roger Rusack, School of Physics and Astronomy, has been actively involved with the LHC since 1993. He helped design and develop many of the detector’s components, including the electromagnetic calorimeter (ECAL). The ECAL measures the energies of photons produced in the collisions—a key way of searching for the Higgs boson. Rusack spent two years at CERN (2009-10) as a leader of a group of nearly 100 international physicists tasked with keeping the ECAL operating at its best. Physics professors Jeremiah Mans and Priscilla Cushman, also with the School of Physics and Astronomy, have had leading roles in the hadron calorimeter, which measures jets of particles produced in the collisions, important for the Higgs discovery. Professor Cushman led the development of the photodetector used by the HCAL.

In all, twenty-nine U of M faculty, researchers, students, engineers and technicians are currently involved in the CMS experiment. The group has played a critical role in the search for the Higgs boson, with physics professor Yuichi Kubota leading our contribution to the data analysis. They also use the CMS data to investigate other physical phenomena, like the structure of the proton, and to search for particles that could make up dark matter.