The ATLAS team, from left: Stewart Martin-Haugh, Valeria Bartsch, Anthony Rose, Antonella De Santo, Fabrizio Salvatore and Tina Potter. LHC image courtesy of Maximilien Brice
Sussex physicists celebrate role in historic discovery at Large Hadron Collider University of Sussex physicists were celebrating today (Wednesday 4 July) following news of a giant step for science with the discovery of a tiny sub-atomic particle.
Antonella De Santo was in London with other leading physicists to break the news that scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland had discovered an elusive particle smaller than an atom which is highly likely to be the Higgs boson, which scientists say proves theories of how the Universe works.
A boson is a sub-atomic particle described as “the most sought-after particle in modern physics” and its apparent discovery follows on from the landmark discovery of electrons more than 100 years ago. The boson is named after British scientist Peter Higgs, who predicted its existence 50 years ago.
The results mark a significant breakthrough in our understanding of the fundamental laws that govern the Universe.
De Santo and her Sussex team are part of ATLAS , one of two LHC experiments (the other is called CMS) that presented data today at a seminar at CERN, confirming the existence of the particle that to date existed only in theory. The seminar announcement was relayed to British scientists in London by satellite.
De Santo’s team was responsible for collecting and analysing data created by the LHC, in which high-energy beams are smashed together deep below the earth’s surface at CERN to recreate conditions in the Universe as they were after the Big Bang.
De Santo says: “Today is a great day to be involved in experimental particle physics. The Large Hadron Collider is a ’once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to do great science and we are now beginning to harvest the fruits of many years of hard work and perseverance. This is a truly collaborative effort and I, with all my colleagues and the young people that work with us, feel very proud and privileged to be part of it.”
UK Funders Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Chief Executive, Professor John Womersley, who announced the discovery to scientists and journalists at a packed Westminster Hall, said: “I’m delighted that we have indeed discovered a particle consistent with the Higgs boson. Obviously having found a new particle, there is still much, much more to do at the LHC – we need to confirm that this new particle is the reason some particles have tangible mass while others are insubstantial, as proposed by Peter Higgs and other scientists, who predicted that a particle like this one must exist for our current understanding of the Universe to work.”
Speaking of the findings the Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “This news from CERN is a breakthrough in world science. The UK has made an enormous contribution over the last 20 years supporting the search for the Higgs Boson. Our researchers, universities and industry partners have been instrumental in making the Large Hadron Collider such a success. They deserve recognition for their contribution to this scientific milestone that will change the way we look at the universe from now on.”
The UK is a world leader in particle physics and has played a central role in this research, from the theorists who formulated the model known as the Higgs mechanism, to the engineers and scientists who have designed, built and exploited the LHC – one of the most complex scientific instruments ever built.
The next step will be to determine the precise nature of the particle and its significance for our understanding of the universe.
Positive identification of the new particle’s characteristics will take considerable time and data. But whatever form the Higgs particle takes, our knowledge of the fundamental structure of matter is about to be enriched.