Release Date: October 8, 2013
BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo physicists who took part in a decades-long search for the Higgs boson, an important subatomic particle, were thrilled by the announcement today of a Higgs-related Nobel Prize in Physics.
The Higgs particle helps explain why objects have mass, illuminating our understanding of the universe, and the Nobel award will go to two physicists who made predictions pointing to the particle's existence in 1964: Peter Higgs, for whom the boson is named, and François Englert, who worked on the Higgs problem with the late theorist Robert Brout.
But the timing of the prize hints at the importance of research done by other scientists in the wake of Englert, Brout and Higgs' predictions. The Nobel recognition comes a year after scientists working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) confirmed that they had finally observed a particle matching the theorists’ descriptions.
UB researchers were part of the team at CERN that discovered the Higgs. The massive international collaboration included thousands of investigators across the world, uniting them in a quest to better understand the Higgs particle and the fundamental physics of our universe.
About the hunt for the Higgs boson:
The search, considered one of modern science’s greatest endeavors, came to a conclusion in July 2012, when scientists announced that they had observed a particle with properties consistent with the long-elusive Higgs.
Finding the Higgs was a monumental achievement because it validated the Standard Model of particle physics, which scientists use to describe how particles and forces interact with one another — to describe, in short, how the world around us works. At the time of its discovery, the Higgs boson was the only particle in the Standard Model that researchers had yet to observe.
UB physicists who participated in the search, and who can comment on the Nobel win, include:
Ia Iashvili, PhD, associate professor of physics
Iashvili helped plan and build the CMS detector of the Large Hadron Collider, the strongest particle accelerator in the world. She is among researchers worldwide who participated in CMS experiments to search for the Higgs boson. Iashvili is one of two CMS scientists in charge of delivering the first energy scale calibration for the CMS, a process that is critical to the CMS project’s ability to identify the Higgs boson and other particles.
"The discovery of the Higgs boson and the Nobel prize marks the dawn of the new era in particle physics,” she says.
Avto Kharchilava, PhD, associate professor of physics
Kharchilava helped plan and build the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector of the Large Hadron Collider, the strongest particle accelerator in the world. The LHC, located at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), smashes protons together at 99.999999 percent of the speed of light, and Kharchilava and thousands of colleagues around the world used the machine to observe the Higgs boson.
He is a member of the Higgs Publication Committee Board that oversees the final steps the CMS collaboration must undertake before results on Higgs particle searchers are made public. He is also a member of the DZero experiment at Fermilab, near Chicago, where he searched for Higgs boson(s) in recent years and studies various aspects of the Standard Model of particle physics.
“So, what's next?" he says. It's a question he often asks himself — and one that is especially relevant these days after the discovery of the Higgs boson, often regarded as the most exciting accomplishment that physicists have achieved in decades.
“Well, we are lucky to have in operation a scientific, technological and engineering marvel such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN," he said "We, the particle physics community worldwide, have a sound and cutting-edge research program for many years to come. We have clear goals, such as making precision measurement of properties of the newly discovered particle and determining whether they are consistent with the Standard Model expectations, and searching for new phenomena, dark matter, extra dimensions, etc. We are fortunate to be part of this endeavor into frontiers of science, technology, and possibly witness even more fundamental discoveries."
Salvatore Rappoccio, PhD, assistant professor of physics
Rappoccio, who joined UB in August 2012 and the CMS experiment in 2007, co-leads a group of dozens of scientists within CMS, searching for the next big discovery in particle physics beyond the Standard Model.
"The Higgs boson discovery is the capstone of over 40 years of scientific achievement in collider physics,” he says. “It is a truly remarkable testament to the wondrous things we can accomplish together with a sustained international commitment to basic scientific research.
“However, it leaves open many questions about nature. Why, for instance, is the energy scale of the Higgs interaction so much different than the energy scale of gravitational interactions? What is dark matter, and does it have a relation to the Higgs? Are there other particles that we haven't observed yet? Why is there so much more matter in the universe than antimatter?
“Collider physics now turns to the next stage in its quest to understand the fundamental interactions of nature, and explore answers to these questions. We're hoping this is not the last great discovery from the Large Hadron Collider physics program, but only the first.”
Besides Rappoccio, Iashvili and Kharchilava, many other UB physicists, including faculty members and students, have been involved in many aspects of the Large Hadron Collider experiments, from helping to run the CMS detector to predicting how particles should look when they appear.