By Maegan A. Rocio
On July 4, nine Baylor scientists had more to celebrate than just Independence Day; they celebrated the discovery of an elemental particle that may prove to be the elusive Higgs boson.
The Baylor High Energy Physics Group, which includes post-doctoral research associates Azeddine Kasmi, Nils Krumnack and Hongxuan Liu, and graduate students Karen Bland, Martin Frank, Tara Scarborough and Zhenbin Wu, participated in the research that led to the discovery at the European Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland.
The team was led by Dr. Jay Dittmann and Dr. Kenichi Hatakeyama, who both hold a doctorate in physics and were personally involved in the research.
One member, Kasmi, presented the team’s results June 24 at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Melbourne, Australia, an international scientific conference focused on the particle physics field.
The remaining members of the Baylor Experimental High Energy Physics group contributed knowledge of “missing energy” and “jets.”
“Missing energy” is energy that is not detected by a particle detector but is key in discovering heavy particles.
“Jets” are measurable quantities that denote the existence of elementary particles (particles that make up all matter in universe) in the experimental device.
Physicists are especially interested in the Higgs boson because it would provide an explanation as to why elementary particles have mass.
“Discovering a new particle like this is not something that happens instantaneously,” said Dittmann, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies of physics at Baylor. “This is something we have been trying to work on for many years and we’ve gotten closer and closer to discovering it. What happened was, during the spring, we discovered it as a little bump in the readings. It’s exciting, but more of a growing excitement.”
The Higgs boson, colloquially known as the “God particle,” was theorized to have existed since 1964 but has yet to be observed experimentally.
The Higgs boson gets its nickname from a book written by Leon Letterman.
“Because it has that name, many people have found it intriguing. But I personally don’t like the name, as many others. The name comes from how it explains how elementary particles have mass,” Dittmann said.
The data concerning the properties of the discovered particle came from the results of the DZero experiment, a worldwide joint effort by physicists to research the basis of matter, and the Collider Detector at Fermilab near Chicago, a high energy proton anti-proton collider.
The results collected from both sources have not proved if the discovered particle is the highly sought after Higgs boson.
“This particle is certainly a new boson, and for that reason it is definitely exciting…[but] we’re not sure if it is the Higgs boson predicted in 1964. It seems like the properties of this particles are consistent with the Higgs boson, but we need more data to be sure,” Dittmann added.
Despite the remaining uncertainty, the findings have motivated the general particle physics community and have drawn attention toward future research concerning the elusive Higgs boson.
“Many physicists have been looking for other Higgs particles and other new particles that consist of the dark particle in the universe, but now, everything we are searching for has to be consistent with the finding of this particle as well,” Hatakeyama said.
For Dittmann, this discovery is only the tip of the particle physics iceberg: “I think for scientists like ourselves, one of the things we desire is a basic understanding of the properties of nature and we care about what happens at very tiny sizes up to huge galactic sizes. I think this kind of discovery shows we don’t know everything about the universe that we can possibly discover. This discovery is tremendously important, but it shows the potential to discover many other great things.”
The Experimental High Energy Physics group at Baylor has been involved in experimental elementary particle physics research with the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment at the European Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland, since 2010 and the Collider Detector at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill. since 2005.
Funding for the Experimental High Energy Physics group at Baylor is provided by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and Baylor University.