Thursday, September 11, 2008

UCSB celebrates role in Hadron Collider


One of the largest science experiments on earth kicked off yesterday near Geneva, Switzerland, where the first beams of protons were shot through a circular tunnel 300 feet below the earth’s surface known as the Large Hadron Collider.
A healthy contingent of more than 40 UC Santa Barbara faculty, graduate students, post doctoral researchers, engineers, technicians and undergraduates have worked for eight years to help construct the apparatus, which aims to amplify scientists’ understanding of some of the basic forces of nature by colliding opposing beams of protons.

“This is a historic undertaking,” said Joseph Incandela, a UCSB professor who specializes in experimental high-energy physics. “We are working with some of the top particle physicists of our era to prepare for what we might see.”
Aside from Incandela, who has lived in Switzerland for the past year, other UCSB professors involved include Claudio Campagnari, Jeffrey Richman and David Stuart.
UCSB’s initial role in the project was to build part of the particle tracking system, which according to a statement from the school, measures the paths of particles produced in the proton-proton collisions.
This included the construction of 2.5 million channels of particle detectors, which were built in clean rooms at UCSB’s physics department.
The seaside school also played a large role in assembling and testing the tracking system of the Compact Muon Solenoid, one of four large experiments on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is the world’s largest particle accelerator.
[The original version of this story incorrectly said UCSB tested and assembled one-third of the LHC.]
“This is a fantastic educational opportunity for our students,” Richman said. “I think it’s pretty extraordinary what the group has done.”
Now that the project is completely assembled and underway, UCSB researchers will primarily be concerned with analyzing the large amounts of data the experiments are expected to produce, the statement said.
Stuart said the high energy proton collisions that will be created by the LHC may help scientists discover particles that could help explain the “dark matter inferred by astrophysicists from observations of galactic motions.”
“This would be really exciting,” he said.
According to the statement, scientists also hope the LHC will help unveil the so-called “Higgs boson,” the particle that causes other particles to have mass. Other scientists have speculated that the LHC could reveal new spatial dimensions with properties vastly different from those with which they’re already familiar with, the statement said.
The UCSB group is funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy, with additional support from the National Science Foundation, according to the statement.
The university announced yesterday it set a new record for funding from external sources, pulling in $194 million during last fiscal year, which ended on June 30.
Michael Witherell, vice chancellor of research at UCSB, said the physics department received more than $20 million of this funding and is one of three departments to reach that mark.
He said UCSB’s involvement in projects like the LHC in Switzerland are examples of why the federal government, which contributed more than 70 percent of the outside funding, as well as non-profits and businesses contribute to the school’s research endeavors.
“UCSB’s had a pretty good sized role for building the detector and will have a pretty good sized role of doing physics at the detector,” Witherell said. “Because we had a leading role in that research, the funding agencies gave us a lot of money per faculty member working on it.”

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