UF Physicists Take Part in
the World’s Most
Ambitious Science Experiment
When the world’s largest particle accelerator went live, University
of Florida physicists joined thousands of scientists working to crack
the last major mysteries of the physical universe.
A team of UF physicists has a leading role in one of the two major experiments
planned for the Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile-long, $5 billion, super-cooled
underground tunnel that has been under construction outside Geneva, Switzerland,
for 14 years. It has been described as the largest scientific project
in history. The European Organization for
Nuclear Research propelled
the first beam of protons through the accelerator on September 10—the
official start of experiments designed to reveal the origin of mass,
the nature of mysterious dark matter and to solve other conundrums of
the physical universe.
“The Large Hadron Collider will give us a deeper understanding of what’s
going on with the basic forces of nature,” said Darin
Acosta, a UF professor
of physics and one of more than two dozen UF faculty or students involved in
The accelerator is intended to smash together protons energized
with seven trillion electron volts—recreating in miniature the conditions
thought to have existed in the first moments of the “Big Bang” more
than 13 billion years ago. Physicists hope at least a few of those collisions
will result in new, if extremely rare and fleeting, forms of matter. They believe
subsequent analysis could yield clues to the most fundamental mysteries in physics—mysteries
about which there are many theories but few observations.
For example, Acosta
said, physicists have explained the presence of mass by theorizing the
existence of the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle believed to endow
particles with mass. But the Higgs—sometimes called the “God particle” because
it is the last unobserved particle in the so-called Standard Model of particle
physics—has so far eluded other colliders. Physicists hope the Large Hadron
Collider is powerful enough to give them a first glimpse.
Also, there is considerable
evidence that the universe contains abundant “dark
matter”—matter that has never been observed but that obeys gravity
and other physical forces. Physicists hope some smashed particles will yield
the first observation of the mysterious stuff.
“We could directly see a neutral particle which could be what makes up
90 percent of the universe,” Acosta said.
More than 30 UF physicists, postdoctoral
associates and graduate students are involved in the collider’s Compact
Muon Spectrometer, or CMS, experiment, one of its two major experiments. About
10 are stationed in Geneva. The group is the largest from any university in the
U.S. to participate in the CMS experiment, said Guenakh
Mitselmakher, a UF distinguished
professor of physics who heads the project. All told, the Large Hadron Collider
involves about 600 U.S. physicists and 5,000 physicists worldwide.
The CMS is the collider’s workhorse: It
is designed to capture and measure all phenomena resulting from the proton collisions
in the collider, Acosta said.
UF team designed and oversaw development of a major detector within the
CMS. The detector, the Muon system, is intended to capture subatomic
particles called muons, which are heavier cousins of electrons. Among
other efforts, UF scientists analyzed about 100 of the 400 detector chambers
placed within the Muon system to be sure they were functioning properly.
The bulk of the UF research was funded by the U.S.
Department of Energy.
The UF team will remain very much involved with the collider and its
experiments throughout the next decade, Mitselmakher said.
“We expect to continue playing leading roles in these experiments and contribute
strongly to future discoveries,” he said.
--> home --> top