UC Davis research physicist Richard Breedon and dean of mathematical and physical sciences Winston Ko are just a couple names from a group of UC Davis faculty working on the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.
“UC Davis was one of the very few American groups in particular that started in the very beginning,” Ko said.
In 1992, UC Davis was one of only four American institutions to sign the letter of intent for the international collaborative effort to construct the Compact Muon Solenoid, one of the general-purpose detectors of the LHC. Breedon and Ko, as well as retired physics professor Richard Lander, were the signatories, Ko said.
The LHC is an international research venture based at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN. Researchers, engineers and scientists from 111 countries are working together on one of the largest scientific experiments ever accomplished, according to the Large Hadron Collider’s website.
First powered up on Sept. 19, it was shut down because of an unexplained leak of liquid helium. CERN expects the maintenance will be completed and the LHC ready to operate by April.
One of the many purposes of the LHC is to create collisions between opposing beams of protons up to nearly the speed of light in order to understand the origin of mass after the Big Bang.
Also, by trying to understand the origin of mass, physicists hope to discover the Higgs Boson, the theoretical particle in the Standard Model that has yet to be seen. The Higgs Boson explains how massless photons with large amounts of energy can attract other particles to become mass.
“Particles go through the Higgs field and like a ball being dragged through sand, it accumulates mass,” Ko said.
Another aspect Breedon said he is most excited about is the prospect of supersymmetry, which predicts the existence of many new particles for physicists to discover and study, with the lightest particle being an excellent candidate for Dark Matter.
Hypothetically, Dark Matter and Dark Energy account for the vast majority of matter in the universe. Scientists have yet to prove its existence but hope that with the LHC, evidence will be found.
If supersymmetry exists, while some supersymmetric particles can be discovered with the LHC, to really understand them requires a new machine, a linear collider that will collide electrons and positrons. The development of such a machine, which is decades away, has begun as a truly international effort called the International Linear Collider, Breedon said in an e-mail interview.
“I expect substantial progress in understanding Dark Matter within a decade,“ he said. “Elucidating the Higgs field at the LHC and ILC could be a first step toward understanding Dark Energy, but that will certainly take much more time.“
If either the LHC or the ILC discover supersymmetry particles, it will, in turn, help clarify our understanding of how the universe came to be.
“It will show that the smallest [particle] is connected to the biggest [explanation],” Ko said.
NICK MARKWITH can be reached at email@example.com.