The investments Baylor University put into particle physics research are paying off with the Nobel Prize in physics being awarded Tuesday for the discovery of the Higgs boson, or “God particle,” a project Baylor physicists were involved in since 2006.
“It is exciting,” associate physics professor Jay Dittmann said. “We think this award validates the importance of our work at CMS and the fact that elementary particle physics is a very important and fascinating frontier of physics.”
The Compact Muon Soledoid, or CMS, is a large particle detector where protons are shot together at high speeds.
Peter Higgs of Britain and Francois Englert of Belgium were awarded the prize for their theory of the Higgs boson, which explains how subatomic particles have mass.
Baylor’s contribution to discovering the Higgs boson was improving the measurement of “missing transverse energy,” which is calculated from the momentum and direction of particles produced when protons collide, Dittmann said.
The group also validated data and software associated with the hadron calorimeter, a machine that measures the energy of particles.
Baylor has been a part of the CMS experiment since 2010, when the Baylor High Energy Physics group, including assistant professor Kenichi Hatakeyama, joined physicists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland, to search for proof of the Higgs boson.
Dittmann explained that by studying the properties of particles produced after protons collide, physicists can deduce when a Higgs boson is present.
It’s taken 50 years to develop the experiment that enabled physicists to prove the existence of this particle.
“Since its discovery was announced (in 2012), there has been increasing evidence that this elementary particle is exactly what the theorists predicted back in 1964,” Dittmann said.
Elementary particle physics is the study of the smallest particles in nature and how they interact.
Baylor Vice Provost for Research Truell Hyde said Baylor’s connection to this prestigious award is one of the many ways the university is moving toward its goal of being ranked among the best research universities in the country.
“These types of events, in which you have your faculty involved in an international project . . . puts us in a very good cohort group because, obviously, not every university is connected with this type of project,” Hyde said.
Baylor has made a concerted effort in the past decade to increase its national reputation for research. The university spent $20 million on research in 2012, hired additional faculty and expanded its facilities by adding the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative building.
“It’s not a single issue. You don’t move a university up by any one thing. You move a university up by being exceptionally good at a large number of areas,” Hyde said.