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Physicists celebrate Nobel Prize for Higgs discovery

Francois Englert (left) and Peter Higgs
Fancois Englert (left) and Peter Higgs
courtesy CERN

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today awarded the Nobel Prize in physics to theorists Peter 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.

In 1964, Higgs and Englert, along with other theorists, including C.R. Hagen, Gerald Geralnik, and Tom Kibble 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.

Nearly 2000 physicists from U.S. institutions—including 89 U.S. universities and seven U.S. Department of Energy laboratories—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. Twenty-one University of Minnesota faculty, researchers, students, engineers, and technicians are currently involved in the CMS experiment. The Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory serves as the U.S. hub for the ATLAS experiment, and the Department of Energy’s 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.

"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 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. The University of Minnesota was responsible for core components of the electromagnetic and hadronic calorimeters which were critical for the discoveries.

"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 the Tevatron accelerator, located at Fermilab, and the Large Electron Positron accelerator(LEP), which once inhabited the tunnel where the LHC resides. Decades of 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.

“The search for a Higgs has been a very long one, including my own PhD dissertation work years ago at LEP, and to finally have an initial confirmation of the Higgs concept has been very exciting. Now we are opening the chapter of study rather than search, which all of us in the University of Minnesota CMS group are hard at work on,” said Professor Mans.

"It has been a long road to get here, beginning all the way back in the mid-1980’s in the time of the supercollider when we started designing detectors to find the Higgs and we have been looking forward to this day since then. In all the time that we prepared for this, building detectors, analyzing data it has been a real privilege to be the person to introduce so many of our undergraduates and graduate students to the exciting world of discoveries in fundamental science. There is no doubt much more to come." Said Prof Rusack