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UB Physicists Celebrate LHC Startup, Decades After Its Inception

Release Date: September 10, 2008

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UB physicists Avto Kharchilava, left, and Ia Iashvili, are members of the international group of scientists that planned and built one of the LHC's four detectors, the Compact Muon Solenoid, (CMS) pictured behind them.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Particle physicists don't ordinarily have a reputation as the most effusive bunch in the world but University at Buffalo physicists, along with their colleagues all over the planet, are positively exuberant about the Sept. 10 debut of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland, the most powerful particle physics accelerator ever built.

On Sept. 10, LHC's two particle beams will, for the first time, make a complete circle in the 27 kilometer-long (about 17 miles) underground tunnel that spans France and Switzerland.

Data resulting from collisions of these beams at specific points in the tunnel are expected to change what physicists know and understand about everything from the Big Bang and black holes to the ever-elusive Higgs boson and the most fundamental building blocks of matter.

Several UB physicists were directly involved in the planning and design of experiments at the LHC while others eagerly anticipate how the results will influence their research.

But all have been struck by the sweeping scale of this experiment and its truly global nature, a two-decade collaboration anticipated all over the globe and made possible by the work of 8,000 scientists and students from nearly 60 nations on six continents.

"The startup of the LHC demonstrates that there is no east and no west, no us and no them, just one humanity coming together to build and operate the largest scientific instrument ever to explore the nature of matter and the origin of the cosmos," said Richard Gonsalves, Ph.D., UB physics professor and former chair of the department.

"To be finally living in the LHC era in anticipation of its scientific discoveries is one of the most exciting moments in my career as a physicist," said Doreen Wackeroth, Ph.D., associate professor of physics at UB.

"This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a high-energy physicist and we are fortunate to

witness it, especially since we have been able to make our modest contributions," said Avto Kharchilava, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics at UB and a co-leader of an international group that planned and built one of the LHC's four detectors, the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS).

Last semester, Kharchilava and UB assistant professor of physics, Ia Iashvili, Ph.D., were stationed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermilab in Chicago, an LHC partner, working with hundreds of other scientists to develop extremely precise software simulations to predict what will happen when the collider experiments begin.

Michael Srang, Ph.D., a UB post-doctoral fellow, and Kenneth Smith, a UB graduate student in the Department of Physics, are continuing that work at Fermilab while Ashish Kumar, Ph.D., a UB post-doctoral fellow, is stationed at CERN.

Kharchilava and other UB scientists plan to awaken at 3 o'clock the morning of Sept. 10 in order to catch the startup and the beginning of the daylong broadcast from CERN. From 9 a.m. to noon, the UB Department of Physics will broadcast streaming video of the LHC startup in the third floor foyer of Fronczak Hall on the UB North (Amherst) Campus.

"On Sept. 10, these beams, which are moving close to the speed of light, have to be kept in perfect orbit by very large superconducting magnets for 27 kilometers," explained Iashvili. "Once that is accomplished, the final stage is to try to collide them, and out of these collisions, we expect to see brand new physics."

The expected "star" of this grand experiment is the Higgs boson, the long-predicted but never seen particle, which should finally explain why particles have mass, according to the Standard Model, the prevailing model of physics.

And the UB scientists are quick to add, there is value in these experiments for the non-physicists among us, too.

Observed Dejan Stojkovic, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics at UB: "This is progress, this is how you advance society. Scientists deal with fundamental questions. The answers to these questions don't pay off immediately. But science pulls the whole society forward. The LHC required the best engineers to build it and the best scientists to plan and use it. When scientists give talks and public lectures, that helps to educate teachers in high schools, and they, in turn, educate their students. Eventually, all levels will benefit."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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