Mike Tuts is among 20 Columbia physicists chasing God’s particle

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One of several radiation detectors at the Large Hadron Collider is lowered into an underground chamber in Cessy, France, during the LHC’s construction. Detectors surround several small sections, usually a couple of hundred feet long, of a 17-mile-long tunnel through which particles will travel at near the speed of light.

Mike Tuts manages about 400 physicists from U.S. institutions who are assigned to one of the LHC’s four main research projects, called ATLAS, which stands for A Toroidal LHC Apparatus. The ATLAS team is looking for the elusive Higgs boson as well as other particles whose existence physicists have yet to even hypothesize. The Higgs boson, which is named for Scottish physicist Peter Higgs and is often called God’s particle because of the deep secrets it could reveal, was described by theorists in the 1960s. But it has never been observed because no particle accelerator has produced enough data to verify its existence. The LHC will produce 1 billion proton-on-proton collisions per second. At that rate, physicists expect that a Higgs boson will appear about once every five seconds; within a couple of years, scientists hope to have enough data to identify its properties.

That will be the crowning achievement of the Standard Model of particle physics, a theory that attempts to describe all matter in the universe, according to Tuts. “The only thing more exciting will be to see entirely new discoveries that we can’t even anticipate,” he says. “For instance, we might see something that proves to be the stuff of dark matter, or we might detect a loss of energy in a proton collision, suggesting that a particle has moved into another dimension that we can’t see. Now, that would be truly astonishing.”

DJC

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