Physics Nobel for Higgs boson: How UC Davis contributed

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to theorists Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, U.K. and Francois Englert of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium, for developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field, which gives elementary particles mass.

UC Davis scientists are among the many others who have played a significant role in advancing the theory and in discovering the particle that proves the existence of the Higgs field, the Higgs boson.

In the 1960s, Higgs and Englert, along with other theorists, including Robert Brout, Tom Kibble and Americans Carl Hagen and Gerald Guralnik, published papers introducing key concepts in the theory of the Higgs field. In 2012, scientists on the international ATLAS and CMS experiments, performed at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN laboratory in Europe, confirmed this theory when they announced the discovery of the Higgs boson.

In 1993, UC Davis was one of the first U.S. universities to sign on to build the CMS or Compact Muon Solenoid, one of the detectors at the Large Hadron Collider. At the time, other U.S. institutions were engaged in work on the Superconducting SuperCollider, which was later cancelled by Congress.

A team led by Professor (now emeritus) Richard Lander and Professor Winston Ko, later dean of mathematical and physical sciences at UC Davis, had developed a concept for a detector based on a high-field magnet for an experiment in Japan, and proposed such a detector for the Superconducting SuperCollider. When their proposal was turned down, Lander and Ko took it to the Large Hadron Collider consortium instead and some of those ideas went into the CMS.

Video: UC Davis professor emeritus Richard Lander recalls how UC Davis got involved in the CMS/LHC.

Over the years, many UC Davis faculty, research scientists, graduate students and postdocs have contributed to work on the Large Hadron Collider, including Lander, Ko, Mani Tripathi, David Pellett and Richard Breedon (full list below).

Video: Physicist Richard Breedon on UC Davis’s role

UC Davis theoreticians have also made significant contributions. For example, Professor John Gunion’s work — captured in the 1990 book, “The Higgs Hunter’s Guide,” showed physicists where and how to look for the Higgs boson, and the types of machines that would be needed to detect it.

Video: Via Skype in July 2012, John Gunion describes the atmosphere at CERN after the Higgs discovery.

Nearly 2000 physicists from U.S. institutions — including 89 U.S. universities and seven U.S. Department of Energy laboratories — participate in the ATLAS and CMS experiments, making up about 23 percent of the ATLAS collaboration and 33 percent of CMS at the time of the Higgs discovery. The Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory serves as the U.S. hub for the ATLAS experiment, and the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory serves as the U.S. hub for the CMS experiment. U.S. scientists provided a significant portion of the intellectual leadership on Higgs analysis teams for both experiments.

Video: What does the Higgs discovery mean — beam me up, Scotty?

The discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN was the culmination of decades of effort by physicists and engineers around the world, at the LHC but also at the Tevatron accelerator, located at Fermilab, and the Large Electron Positron accelerator, which once inhabited the tunnel where the LHC resides. Decades of work by scientists at the Tevatron and LEP developed search techniques and eliminated a significant fraction of the space in which the Higgs boson could hide.

The list: these are UC Davis faculty and researchers who have worked at or with the Large Hadron Collider over the years —

Richard Breedon, research physicist
Manuel Calderon de la Barca, professor
Michael Case, software engineer
Maxwell Chertok, professor
John Conway, professor
Timothy Cox, project physicist
Robin Erbacher, professor
Britt Holbrook, senior engineer
Winston Ko, professor and dean
Richard Lander, professor emeritus
Michael Mulhearn, assistant professor
David Pellett, professor emeritus
John Smith, research physicist
John Thomson, machine shop manager
Mani Tripathi, professor

Many graduate students and postdocs have also worked on the project over the years. Among them: Fengcheng Lin, now president of Teralane Semiconductor in Shenzhen, China; and Jeff Rowe, a researcher in the UC Davis Computer Security Laboratory, whose doctoral theses focused on the design of the Compact Muon Solenoid.

(Adapted from a news release from Fermilab.)

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