The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today awarded the Nobel Prize in physics to theorists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert to recognize their work in developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field, which gives elementary particles mass. U.S. scientists, including those at UC Irvine, played a significant role in the research and in discovering the particle that proves the existence of the Higgs field, the Higgs boson.
In the 1960s, Higgs, Englert, Robert Brout, Tom Kibble and Americans Carl Hagen and Gerald Guralnik, published studies 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 the CERN laboratory in Europe, confirmed this theory when they announced the discovery of the Higgs boson.
Nearly 2,000 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. 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.
“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. Eight UC Irvine faculty members and many postdoctoral researchers, students and staff members are involved with the LHC. They develop electronics, computer systems and software integral to collecting and recording data. Here are their roles in and reactions to the Higgs boson recognition.
Andrew Lankford, until recently, was deputy director of the ATLAS experiment, one of the LHC’s four particle detectors, and leader of U.S. groups working on the ATLAS Trigger and Data Acquisition System. The UC Irvine physics & astronomy professor has been working for more than 20 years toward the physics goals of the LHC.
“This is a fantastic achievement, a demonstration of the predictive power of theoretical physics applied by brilliant minds to conceive the Higgs field and the ingenuity of scientists to address unprecedented technical challenges to its observation. It’s exciting that we at UCI played a role in this discovery. Nonetheless, observation is just the start. We’ll now study the properties of the Higgs boson and search for possible partners and other new particles as we solve other puzzles of the subatomic world and ultimately the cosmos.”
Jonathan Feng, UC Irvine physics & astronomy professor, focuses on the possible implications of the Higgs boson for other new particles, such as those that might indicate extra spatial dimensions or form the dark matter that pervades our universe.
“This is wonderfully well-deserved prize. Ever since the Higgs boson was postulated 50 years ago, we have been working in particle physics under the assumption that it existed, as it beautifully solved so many outstanding problems. But that is a long way from proving it existed. Its discovery last year and the Nobel Prize today are testaments to the creativity of the human mind and what people can do when they work together.”
Arvind Rajaraman, UC Irvine physics & astronomy professor, takes the large amounts of experimental data recorded by the LCH and builds models of new physics designed to compare the data with theoretical predictions.
“For the last couple of decades, we have been just short of the experimental technology to finally settle the nature of dark matter and the Higgs boson (primarily because of the difficulty of building these colliders). The LHC can definitively answer these questions and transform our understanding of particle physics.”
Tim Tait, UC Irvine professor of physics & astronomy and theoretical physicist, works to understand the implications of the Higgs boson discovery and how it fits into the larger picture of fundamental particles. Does it really agree with all expectations and, if not, is there some new physics beyond the current paradigm?
“The Nobel Prize for the Higgs boson represents the culmination of a major chapter in the history of particle physics. Even more than the prize itself, the discovery illustrates the fact that we can understand how nature works, form hypotheses, and then build experiments to test them. The fact that thousands of people were involved demonstrates how seemingly impossible challenges can be met by the particle physics community by combining the efforts of thousands of physicists from around the world.”
Agnes Taffard, UC Irvine physics & astronomy associate professor, helps monitor data quality, ensuring that the ATLAS detector performs as expected. She provided an automatic data quality analysis tool.
“Fundamentally, understanding the origin of the universe and the Big Bang are just fascinating to me. It is even more exciting now to look for the answers to those questions, since we still have so much to learn, and we now have a tool to do it. I feel really privileged to be part of the endeavor.”
Daniel Whiteson, UC Irvine physics & astronomy associate professor, is charged with ensuring smooth data acquisition using a farm of approximately 2,000 computers with eight central processing units operating harmoniously in union.
“This work helps answer the question: “What is our world made of?” This is a basic question in everyone’s mind.”
Mu-Chun Chen, UC Irvine physics & astronomy associate professor, proposed with collaborators a model that yields neutrino mass, while at the same time predicting the existence of a new particle called the Z’ gauge boson.
“The Higgs boson may be the key to the mass generation for some Standard Model particles. Its discovery is the very first step into unveiling the origin of mass. Subsequent particle physics experimental efforts may discover new particles and new interactions that are predicted by theories of particle masses. Many of these theories also shed light on the question why the universe today is dominated by matter, not antimatter.”
Yuri Shirman, UC Irvine physics & astronomy associate professor, works on theoretical ideas describing possible new physics phenomena at energy scales that are probed by the LHC.
“History tells us that most discoveries of fundamental laws of nature benefit humanity in ways that could not be envisioned at the time discoveries were made. I think the biggest benefit to the public will be indirect – by contributing to our long quest to better understand the world we live in.”