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August 22, 2012

Rochester scientists play key roles in search for Higgs boson

While this summer’s announcement that scientists in Switzerland had discovered a subatomic particle “consistent with the Higgs boson” ranks as a historic moment in physics, there is more work to be done, say members of a team of Rochester scientists whose work helped support a nearly five-decades-old theory of one of their colleagues.

The researchers—including Arie Bodek, Regina Demina, Aran Garcia-Bellido, Sergei Korjenevski, Paul Slattery, and Pawel deBarbaro—were part of CMS, one of the two experimental teams at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) whose results made the discovery possible.

Rochester’s Carl Hagen—along with Gerald Guralnik and Thomas Kibble—wrote a 1964 paper, titled “Global Conservation Laws and Massless Particles,” which was named one of the milestone papers in the history of Physical Review Letters.

Hagen, Guralnik, and Kibble were among six scientists who published similar papers that year describing the Higgs mechanism and the Higgs boson.

Hagen, professor of physics at the University, made his first trip to CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, for the July 4 announcement.

He described the findings as a remarkable achievement, noting that confirmation won’t be possible until other qualities of the particle have been pinpointed.

“Yet that is not to say that it is the long-sought boson,” Hagen says. “Its spin has yet to be determined, for example.”

An elementary particle that’s believed to be responsible for giving other particles their mass, the Higgs boson is considered by physicists to be the remaining piece to the standard model of particle physics.

One of the goals of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, an enormous underground particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland, was to try to confirm the particle’s existence.

Arie Bodek, the George E. Pake Professor of Physics, calls the news the “most important discovery in particle physics since the ’70s.”

In his 1972 PhD thesis at MIT, Bodek focused on the discovery of the quark, which he considers the first experimental result that led to the formulation of the standard model.

Bodek’s research group at Rochester took the lead in constructing the detectors, called “hadron calorimeters,” for the CMS experiment.

“I feel very fortunate to have participated in both of these incredible discoveries,” Bodek says.

Regina Demina, professor of physics, has been involved with CMS for nearly 12 years.

“Our work at CERN is not done,” says Demina. “We must verify that the new particle discovered has all the qualities expected in the Higgs boson. Beyond that, the model that explains the universe is not yet complete. That includes a better understanding of dark energy and dark matter.”

Garcia-Bellido, assistant professor physics, has been a member of the CMS team since 1994. His group works on the hadron calorimeter.

“Our job as experimentalists is to build the detectors that serve as blank slates for the particles to leave their footprints in,” says Garcia-Bellido, “and then we understand how those footprints relate to the real particles and what that means about their nature.”

The work at CERN would not have been possible without a great many people working at a high level of quality, according to Demina.

Among those people is Sergei Korjenevski, a senior technical associate who’s responsible for maintaining the quality of the silicon sensors in the CMS detector.

Korjenevski worked on the CMS project for 11 years, his tenure coming to an end in 2010 after the successful commissioning of the detector.

As work continues at CERN, a new generation from Rochester is busy leaving its mark.

Roberto Covarelli, a postdoctoral fellow under the supervision of Demina, is involved in measuring the spin of the new particle, which, if it is truly the elusive Higgs boson, will be zero.

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