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Scientists Hail Higgs Boson News

One physicist involved in groundbreaking search for elusive fundamental particle

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July 5, 2012 | by Storer H. Rowley
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University physicists -- including one involved in the search for the Higgs boson, or so-called “God particle” – hailed the news July 4 that scientists have discovered a new subatomic particle that is the closest thing yet to the Higgs model.

The search for the elusive Standard Model Higgs has gone on for nearly half a century. The new findings are being heralded by scientists around the world as a historic milestone that will provide keys to deciphering how particles are given mass — which, in turn, could open doors to discoveries of the fundamental nature of life, diversity and the mysteries of the universe. 

Two Northwestern scientists commented on the significance of the discovery announced this week by a team of multinational scientists working at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

Mayda Velasco, professor of physics and astronomy at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and Michael Schmitt, associate professor of physics and astronomy, co-lead Northwestern’s high-energy research group. Both have leadership roles at CMS, the general-purpose particle physics detector Northwestern is using at CERN.

Mayda M. Velasco

Mayda Velasco is conducting cutting-edge research into the Higgs at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and was at CERN for the lead up to the July 4 announcement. “The Higgs is a crucial missing piece in our understanding of the origin of mass,” Velasco said.

“We are thrilled to share the exciting news coming from our CMS effort at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. We have a clear observation for a new, very heavy particle that could be the Higgs boson,” she said on returning to the United States. “Therefore, this is the first clear evidence that we might be able to explain the origin of mass of the fundamental particles. It has taken more than 40 years to get to this stage.

“We are definitely entering a new era in particle physics, and our Northwestern CMS group is and will continue to play a crucial role,” Velasco added.

She is part of the CMS experiment, one of two general purpose experiments at the LHC that have been built to search for new physics. It is designed to detect a wide range of particles and phenomena produced in the LHC’s high-energy, proton-proton and heavy-ion collisions. It is expected to help answer questions such as: What is the universe really made of? What forces act within it? and What gives everything mass?

CMS comprises more than 3,200 physicists and 790 engineers and technicians from 179 institutions and research laboratories distributed in 42 countries all over the world. 

Michael H. Schmitt

Michael Schmitt studies processes initiated by the collisions of very high-energy protons at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). He is not involved with any of the Higgs searches, but he can comment on what has been found regarding Higgs and what this year may hold.

“A new era is beginning in particle physics,” Schmitt said. “Instead of hunting for the Higgs boson, we will study its properties in order to gain unique insights into physics beyond the standard model. Instead of working to exclude ranges of Higgs boson mass, we will apply advanced analysis techniques to make the best measurements possible. It is an exciting time for experimenters and theorists alike.”