Like most things in particle physics, Australia’s role in the hunt for the Higgs boson can be described as a tiny yet integral part of a grand process.
Australian scientists helped to build key parts of the ATLAS detector, one of two general purpose detectors positioned around the 27km loop of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
There are around 3,000 physicists, engineers and researchers undertaking post-doctoral studies who work directly on the ATLAS experiment. This includes, at any one time, about 30 personnel from Australia.
“ATLAS’ main reason for existence is the search for the Higgs boson,” explains Associate Professor Kevin Varvell from the University of Sydney and Sydney Node Director for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale (CoEPP).
What is the “Higgs Boson”?
The Higgs Boson is a subatomic particle that was envisioned by British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, along with other scientists, in the 1960s.
His theory suggests the universe is permeated by a “Higgs field”, evidence for the existence of which would be the discovery of the Higgs boson.
It is the influence of this field on fundamental particles of matter that gives them mass.
To date, however, there is no proof that the Higgs boson actually exists.
The search for evidence has employed the minds of the world’s top physicists, and an expanding array of hi-tech research facilities, for decades.
Peter Higgs, now in his late 80s and retired, will reportedly receive a Nobel Prize if his elusive and as-yet hypothetical particle is found.
The world’s top particle physicists will gather in Australia next month with high expectations of a breakthrough in their decades-long search for the “Higgs boson”.
The second major batch of data to emerge from the Europe’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be presented at the 36th International Conference on High Energy Physics in Melbourne (ICHEP 2012, 4 - 11 July).
This is hoped to allow physicists to conclude they have found the Higgs boson - a subatomic particle hypothesized in the 1960s and which is central to the theory on how particles gain mass – or rule out its existence. In any case, this data will take a big new step, and expectations are high.