Argonne National Laboratory

Hints of Higgs: Argonne scientists make significant contributions to search for elusive particle

By Jared SagoffJuly 4, 2012

Particle physics researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have been intimately involved with the effort to find the Higgs boson – the elusive particle that could explain why various subatomic particles have mass.

At a seminar at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, the two LHC experiments ATLAS and CMS announced independent observations of a new particle in the mass region 125-126 GeV that is compatible with the Higgs boson.

"The results presented today are the result of over 20 years of effort by several thousands of scientists throughout the world, and Argonne’s contributions to the ATLAS detector made possible the acquisition of the data we’re discussing today. This is a historic milestone – but only the beginning as we start the task of exploring the properties of this new particle," said Argonne senior physicist James Proudfoot.

Argonne has made significant contributions to the results, especially in the construction and operation of parts of the ATLAS detector—one of the major experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, located in Geneva, Switzerland—and analysis of the signals recorded by the detector to uncover underlying physics of particle collisions.

The search for the Higgs has transpired at a number of different particle accelerators and detectors ever since the particle was proposed in the 1960s. The LHC, which occupies a 17-mile-long circular tunnel, is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator.

“Locating the Higgs would represent one of the biggest, if not the biggest, achievements in high-energy physics in the past several decades,” said Argonne physicist Tom LeCompte, who until recently served as physics coordinator for the ATLAS detector at the LHC. 

Put simply, scientists see the Higgs boson as the particle manifestation of an invisible field that permeates the universe. Particles — including those that make up most of the visible matter in the universe, from stars to people — gain mass by interacting with the Higgs field.

The LHC will continue operating until the end of the year. During this period, ATLAS will roughly double the data sample used for the Higgs study. Following accelerator improvements planned for 2013 and 2014, the LHC is expected to restart in late 2014. ATLAS will then resume the exploration of the Higgs sector and to look for new physics discoveries at the highest collision energies ever recorded.

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The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.