Scientists have been trying to find evidence of the existence of the Higgs boson particle for decades. But what is it? And what’s all the excitement about?
Scientists have been searching for the Higgs boson particle for years, and they’re finally narrowing the range within which they might find evidence of this elusive subatomic particle.
First proposed by Dr. Peter Higgs, the Higgs boson is a hypothetical elementary particle. If proven to exist, the Higgs boson particle is predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics to explain why particles have mass. The Higgs energy field consists of countless Higgs bosons, just like water is filled with countless H2O molecules. The Higgs field and Higgs boson particle are still theoretical so, to validate the Standard Model, scientists are trying to prove their existence.
HOW CAN SCIENTISTS FIND HIGGS BOSON?
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle accelerator, hosts six experiments. Two of them (ATLAS and CMS) are dedicated to finding evidence of the Higgs boson particle’s existence through the side effects of collisions when protons smash into each other. Waiting for protons to collide is risky because the energy of a proton beam at full power is so high that it can melt a 1,100 lb block of copper. It is extremely important that the protons do not stray from their path and are reliably controlled.
HOW NI HELPS
The scientists at CERN use NI PXI and FPGA-based reconfigurable I/O (RIO) devices to control the motors that move graphite blocks within the collider to absorb any protons that stray from the nominal proton beam’s path. This process is commonly known as “collimation.” Because the LHC is a 27 km circular tunnel, more than 100 collimators around the tunnel must be synchronized accurately. Over 120 NI PXI systems with NI reconfigurable I/O (RIO) modules control these collimators and align the graphite blocks to absorb stray protons with millisecond resolution.
What you may have seen in the news lately is that the ATLAS experiment showed “excess events” close to 125 gigaelectron volts (GeV). In physics, electron volts express both energy and mass. The CMS detector, which is independent of the ATLAS detector, similarly found events near 124 GeV.
These findings are a huge development for scientists, who are closer than ever to capturing the elusive Higgs boson article. While other experiments are planned to further support the evidence, scientists are optimistic that they are close to ending their search.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
This illustration shows a typical particle accelerator with a linear accelerator (LINAC) for initial acceleration, a booster ring to impart required energy on the particle, and a storage ring to store the particle before eventual collision.
This collimator with graphite blocks is controlled by NI PXI to absorb particles not in the nominal path of the beam.
The collision of protons at high energy levels produces a number of subatomic particles that are captured by detectors to validate the existence of the Higgs boson.
This article first appeared in the Q2 2012 issue of Instrumentation Newsletter.
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