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Tag archives: particle physics

Particle physics comes alive on a tablet

Home page of The Particles app. (Courtesy: Science Photo Library)

Home page of The Particles app. (Courtesy: Science Photo Library)

By Hamish Johnston

The physicist and best-selling author Frank Close has joined forces with Michael Marten – founder of the Science Photo Library (SPL) – and CERN Courier editor Christine Sutton to create a new app about particle physics. Called The Particles, the app is billed as an introduction to the Standard Model and is aimed at a wide audience that includes professional physicists, students and even amateur enthusiasts.

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Don Glaser: 1926–2013

Don Glaser

Don Glaser giving a talk at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2010.
(Courtesy: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

By Michael Banks

The US physicist Don Glaser has died at the age of 86. Glaser was instrumental in inventing the bubble chamber – a vessel filled with a superheated transparent liquid such as liquid hydrogen that can be used to detect electrically charged particles moving through it. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for this work in 1960, aged just 34.

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What exactly will be upgraded at the LHC?

Lots of work to be done on the LHC (Courtesy: CERN)

Lots of work to be done on the LHC (Courtesy: CERN)

By Hamish Johnston

It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride for physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. When the collider was first switched on in 2008 it suffered a major explosion when a superconducting connector failed – and was shut down for over a year for repairs. Then in 2010 the LHC began taking data and the excitement about the imminent discovery of the Higgs boson grew and grew – and then on 4 July last year, CERN physicists announced the discovery of a Higgs-like particle.

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Hunting the Higgs

By Michael Banks in Boston

“It looks like a Standard Model Higgs,” remarks Christopher Hill from Ohio State University. “Everything we have measured has strengthened that position.”

Last year, researchers working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN reported they had found a Higgs-like particle with an energy of around 126 GeV.

Yet while the Higgs looks like that predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics, further measurements were needed before researchers could be sure.

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First results due from AMS

By Michael Banks in Boston

The first results from the $1.5bn Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) are expected to be released in the coming two weeks, according to AMS principal investigator Samuel Ting.

Ting, who shared the 1976 Nobel Prize for Physics, was speaking at the 2013 AAAS meeting in Boston.

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Billy Bragg knows nothing

By Matin Durrani

When I was a PhD student at Cambridge in the early 1990s, I remember going to a concert by singer-songwriter Billy Bragg at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. Riding high at the time on a string of classic songs such as “She’s Got a New Spell”, “Shirley” and ”Great Leap Forward”, Bragg had an ear for a great tune and was a great lyricist to boot – who can forget the classic line “How can you lie there and think of England if you don’t even know who’s in the team?”.

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CDF bump almost gets a five-star rating

USPS.jpg
The graph shows the distribution of the “w-jj excess” as seen by the CDF experiment (Courtesy: Punzi/Fermilab)

By Tushna Commissariat

Two months ago, in early April, the particle-physics community was rife with speculation and excitement over a “bump” – a possible new particle – in the data that Fermilab’s CDF experiment was looking at. On Monday 30 May Giovanni Punzi, a CDF collaborator, presented an update on what is now referred to the “ W-jj” bump, as a part of his talk at the 23rd Rencontres de Blois Particle Physics and Cosmology conference currently being held in France. The update says that the bump is seen in more recent data with an even larger statistical significance.

At the time, CDF was looking for slightly rare di-boson pairs – W bosons produced in association with another W or a Z boson. It noted a bump between 120 and 160 GeV /C2 in the jets produced in the collisions with a statistical significance of about “three-sigma”, which meant that the result would not be considered valuable until a “five-sigma” statistical significance could be established. The new data, however, have established a significance that is officially “closer to five sigma” (unconfirmed sources suggest it is as close as 4.8) and that “it was not just a statistical fluctuation” and that it is now a “serious issue for CDF to understand this”, according to Punzi.

Interestingly, Punzi’s slides also say that it is almost impossible that bump is due to the Standard Model top-quark background, as suggested by some theoretical papers, as that would imply that previous measurements for SM top-quark background had huge errors. The next step forward would be if CDF’s sister experiment D0 or the LHC’s ATLAS or CMS experiments, none of which have found the bump in their data so far, manage to detect it.

This updated result has seen a variety of responses from physicists.

Adam Falkowski, who writes the Resonaances blog, seems rather jubilant. “In a collider experiment, such a huge departure from a Standard Model prediction is happening for the first time in the human history,” he writes. “I don’t have to stress how exciting it is.”

Peter Woit, author of the Not Even Wrong blog, feels that while a five-sigma significance is important, problems with background modelling might thwart the result. “The signal is being extracted from a huge background, so a small misunderstanding of the background could be its cause.” Only a detection of the same result by another experiment would make the case more compelling, according to him.

Tommaso Dorigo, a blogger and CDF collaborator, is still sceptical of the result and chalks it up to bad background modelling, like Woit. “No, it is not the Higgs. And it is not a new particle. It is, in my humble opinion, a problem in the modelling of backgrounds, one which was unnoticed before only because it is small enough to have escaped previous attempts at “tuning” the simulations.”, he writes in his blog.

So while it seems like we the path to “new physics” is full of “bumps”, the field of particle physics is a rather exciting one right now! Take a look at the slides Punzi used for his talk here.

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Much ado about the LHC

USPS.jpg
Rolf-Dieter Heuer talking to journalists at the Royal Society, London.
(Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has had its share of good and bad press over the past few years. Controversy and rumours abounded when the machine was switched on in September 2008. The mood then turned quickly to disappointment when its magnets failed and finally to euphoria when the first beams collided at 7 TeV in March 2010.

This week, a meeting to discuss the LHC and all things related was held at the Royal Society in London. The “Physics at the High Energy Frontier – the Large Hadron Collider Project” meeting took place on 16–17 May and saw leading lights of the project come together to discuss the collider and its future.

I was at the meeting for the second day, when a press briefing was held where CERN director Rolf-Dieter Heuer, plus Fabiola Gianotti and Guido Tonelli of the ATLAS and CMS experiments respectively, answered all of the questions that the Higgs-hungry reporters could throw at them!

The three speakers described how the collider has “surpassed all expectations” – experimental and computational. Talking about how the LHC is the very essence of global co-operation, Tonelli stressed that “no country could have done it as a stand-alone”. Heuer boasted that every year about 1000 students get their PhDs thanks to the LHC, while just the ATLAS experiment involves about 3000 researchers.

Explaining how things work at the LHC, Tonelli said, “We [experimental scientists] try to test the theory without prejudice. We ask our friends the theorists to come up with something that we can observe.” The collider has already produced the top quark in Europe for the first time and now it is poised to begin a regime of “new physics”, to look for supersymmetry (SUSY), multiple dimensions, matter–antimatter disparity and, of course, the Higgs boson.

The Higgs…or something else?

“We will have an answer to the Shakespeare question for the Higgs – ‘To be or not to be’ – by the end of 2012” declared a confident Heuer. While he did show a great deal of enthusiasm about discovering the Higgs, Heuer was also keen to point out that not finding the particle would be a great result in itself. “Not finding [the Higgs] when it does not exist is a success,” he exclaimed. “If it does not exist, we need to find something else that takes up the job of the Higgs and gives mass to elementary particles,” he added.

The LHC will run until the end of 2012 without any major breaks and Heuer is confident that it will decide the fate of the Higgs by the end of this run. “Physics will not be the same after 2012.” declared Tonelli. “It will change the view of the world.”

Not amused

One of the first questions, asked by BBC reporter Pallab Ghosh, was about the recent ”leak” of an unconfirmed sighting of the Higgs by ATLAS. A sighting that was later denied by a paper released by the ATLAS team and in interviews with physicists on various media channels.

“Unfortunately we live in a world of WikiLeaks, so it leaked!” said a grinning Gianotti. On a more serious note, she explained that such leaked results have not undergone the scientific scrutiny that is necessary, and hence are almost always insubstantial.

“The CERN management was not amused by the leak” said Heuer. He went on to ask journalists not to believe leaked results in the future. “Don’t trust it on first sight” he said. Although Heuer’s displeasure was clear, the leak did put the LHC back in the public eye after a few quiet months. Also, the media interest did provide the public with a rare insight into the vetting process that all scientific discoveries undergo. So perhaps the CERN management should lighten up and enjoy the renewed interest in the LHC!

USPS.jpg
Rolf-Dieter Heuer giving a talk about the future of the LHC at the Royal Society, London. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

Bumps and jumps

When asked about the Higgs-like ‘bumps’ seen at other experiments like the Tevatron and CERN’s Large Electron Positron Collider (LEP) the panel had mixed replies. The Tevatron bump was dismissed by Gianotti and Tonelli, as they both explained that it was too small, statistically speaking, and was only seen by one of the Tevatron’s two detectors. Would the LHC have a look for the Tevatron signal? “No”, was their reply.

However, “interesting events” seen at 115 GeV by the LEP just before its closure in 2000 are of interest to them. While Heuer did say that it is very difficult to determine if it was anything more than a “hint”, the LHC will be looking for the Higgs at that energy soon.

hawking.jpg

Colliding linearly

The International Liner Collider – a possible successor to the LHC – is another project that Heuer is excited about. He feels that CERN, with the LEP and now the LHC under its belt, would be the perfect host for the collider. “I think CERN has huge potential, not only on the human side, but on its experience side. We have all the instruments. So I see CERN in a very good position.” he said.

But what about the money? “If you have an excellent science case, you will get the money. Don’t ask for the money until you have the science figured out.” he said. He pointed out that, compared to the US, in Europe the politics of funding are more stable and for that reason CERN would be a better host.

Right: prototype microwave cavity for the ILC, illuminated for a “Science Night” in Hamburg. (Courtesy: DESY)

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