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Higgs boson: UC physicists play role in the historic search

UC scientists spearheaded key experiments in what some call the “Holy Grail” discovery in physics — a new particle that may prove to be the long-sought Higgs boson.

In particle physics, bosons are a class of elementary particles. But the elusive Higgs boson, named after theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, is sought because it is crucial for explaining what gives protons, electrons, neutrons and all particles inside atoms their mass. It probably created all the particles in the Big Bang, when the universe formed.

Researchers from UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, UC Riverside and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have taken part in the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s (CERN) quest to find the Higgs boson.

It was UC Santa Barbara physics professor Joe Incandela who made the highly anticipated announcement on July 4 in Geneva, Switzerland, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

“We have observed a new boson,” Incandela announced to hundreds of cheering scientists and students attending a seminar, broadcast live via a webcast around the world.

Evidence for the new particle is very strong, he said, and the pattern seen across the different observations is consistent with the theoretical predictions for the Higgs boson. “This is a preliminary report, but we think it’s very strong and very solid,” said Incandela, the spokesperson for the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment for CERN.

Incandela and other UC physicists conducted experiments in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva. In the LHC, two counter-rotating beams of protons smash together at an energy of 8 trillion electron volts, producing millions of collisions per second. These collisions should produce, on rare occasions, an extremely unstable Higgs boson, which would immediately decay into lighter elementary particles. It is in this decay that physicists look for evidence of the Higgs particle.

At the LHC, Incandela and UC Santa Barbara’s High Energy group — which includes professors, engineers and 20 postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students — have contributed significantly to the construction of the highly complex CMS project, which is about the size of a four-story building and weighs 14,000 tons.

The group played a strong role in constructing the high-precision particle tracking system, which is used to map the trajectories of particles created in the collisions. They helped to assemble components for the silicon particle tracker in clean rooms on the UC Santa Barbara campus.

>>Read more about the historic discovery, including contributions from several UC campuses, on the UC Research site.

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