BU joins research in Europe

By Robyn Sanders
Staff writer

A group of Baylor researchers is currently engaged in a high-energy physics experiment taking place at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is a particle accelerator.

Baylor researchers, led by Dr. Jay Dittmann, associate professor of physics, and Dr. Kenichi Hatakeyama, assistant professor of physics, are hoping to define the Higgs Boson particle as part of their involvement with the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment taking place at the LHC at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The Higgs Boson, according to Dittmann, has certain properties that help to explain why all particles have mass.

“We know that things in the world have mass, but we still don’t really understand why,” Dittmann said, “and we don’t understand the mechanism for how different particles obtain the mass they do. The Higgs Boson is the last particle that is predicted by the standard model that hasn’t yet been observed experimentally. We don’t know if it really exists or not. The standard model theory says it ought to, but every measurement that we’ve done so far has not revealed it yet. One reason for that could just be because we haven’t collected enough data, and with more data we would actually be able to see some sign of it.”

Hatakeyama said that although he would be excited to find the Higgs Boson, the discovery on its own is not as interesting as it could be.

“We think there is a good possibility that some physics beyond the Higgs can show up,” Hatakeyama said, “and that will make the physicists much more excited.”

Dr. Greg Benesh, professor and chair of the physics department, said that the researchers are trying to understand nature at a fundamental level.

“They want to understand how it all fits together, you know, why these particular particles? How do they combine in order to create more massive particles and all the things in nature that we see?” Benesh said. “So the search for the Higgs is not so much a search for one particular particle, but it’s to see if this theory really is descriptive of nature.”

Although Baylor is now directly involved with the CMS experiment in Europe, Dr. Dittmann is also involved with the Collider Detector at Fermilab (or CDF experiment) in Illinois. Dittmann said that the Fermilab experiment has been searching for the Higgs Boson as well, but that it will stop collecting data on Sept. 30.

“For quite some time the Fermilab experiment’s produced some very nice results that showed that if the Higgs Boson exists, it has to exist in a certain range of masses.” Dittmann said, “But now the Large Hadron Collider is producing these tremendous results which are ruling out even more masses. And over time, if you rule out all the possible masses that it could be, it means that the Higgs can’t exist. And that’s when it’s exciting because we have to go back and take another look at the theories.”

This past summer, Dr. Hatakeyama had two undergraduate students working with him on CMS data analysis at Fermilab, and he said he believes that the experience of interacting with other physicists and participating in research will be beneficial to them.

“I think the fact that they go beyond Baylor and they spend time at Fermilab interacting with people from different countries, different universities . . . that itself is a good experience,” Hatakeyama said.

Dittmann said that because the CMS experiment is such a huge apparatus with so much time and energy invested in it, they’ll want to keep running it for a long period of time.

“We just started collecting data and analyzing it roughly a year and a half ago,” Dittmann said, “and we hope to be able to continue collecting data for 10 to 15 more years.”