CERN researchers working on the LHC have announced that they have discovered a particle where they would expect to find a Higgs boson. The announcement is a step forward for modern physics and Queen Mary has contributed technical expertise, engineering experience and computing resources to this work. The announcement however is not a categorical declaration of the Higgs existence or how it fits into the larger picture.
The Higgs boson is the elementary particle that needed to explain why and how particles have mass. Up until now the Standard Model, particle physics’ "theory of everything", was unable to fully explain why the most fundamental particles of the universe had mass and why they were different. The discovery of the Higgs is the first step in filling in this gap.
The announcement was made by the two experiments, ATLAS and CMS, working at CERN. Both groups have been independently working on finding the Higgs and they now have enough data analysed to state that they have seen proof of a particle where the Higgs should be. Queen Mary is a member of the ATLAS experiment and helped design, build and now operate two crucial pieces of the ATLAS detector. These are the Level One Calorimeter Trigger and the Semiconductor Tracker, which selected and demonstrated the existence of Higgs signatures in the ATLAS detector.
"The group at QMUL have worked very hard for many years now and we are one of the leading UK hardware groups in this area." says Prof. Steve Lloyd who works at QMUL on ATLAS, "It is great to see even this hint of a discovery from work done here at Queen Mary. We can’t say it’s definitely the Higgs but it sure looks like one".
While the hardware components are instrumental, equally important is the work done on the computing side. Researchers at QMUL are integral in the development and maintenance of ATLAS software as well as providing the computing resources at QMUL dedicated to the worldwide LHC Computing Grid. This global computing infrastructure connects 200,000 computer providing 24/7 access to the resources needed by particle physicists. Queen Mary has been involved since 2001 and has grown to become one of the best performing sites on the grid. This year alone QMUL has processed over 11 PB of data from 15 million files.
"Only 10 years ago the idea of having 400 sites around the world pooling computing resources was a pipe dream. Now it is the primary way for researchers to access and analyse the data from the LHC" explains Dr Alex Martin who manages the QMUL grid cluster "We got involved at the start and in the intervening decade have become a major contributor to crunching LHC data. We are now the forth largest of all the ATLAS sites worldwide based on how much data we have processed".