The Big Bang Theory lives at the U of O

Carla Axtman

The Big Bang Theory is actually not in Pasadena, as the TV show suggests. It's in Eugene.

This is SO COOL.

Ian C. Campbell, The Oregonian:

University of Oregon physics faculty and graduate students played a big role in last week's discovery of an elemental building block of the universe: a particle called the Higgs boson.


UO's contributions were critical to the success of the project, ranging from determining if the detector is functioning correctly all the way to designing even more precise detectors for future experiments.

The Large Hadron Collider shoots pieces of atoms called protons at each other at nearly the speed of light. By carefully steering them around an atomic racetrack, physicists can create some of the highest-speed collisions allowable by the laws of physics. Much like how a car crash scatters broken auto parts throughout an intersection, so too can a proton crash scatter broken proton parts.

But the parts are too small to see even with the most sensitive microscope, so scientists built another type of detector called ATLAS, which is capable of measuring the pieces' energy signatures.

UO professor Jim Brau helped design this system -- and is already working on its successor.

The electromagnetic stoplight that sends protons on their collision course allows so many to happen -- millions of collisions each second -- that it would be impossible to store a record of each one. The ATLAS team predicts that they could fill 100,000 CDs every second if such a task was feasible.

Instead, they only save collisions most likely to reveal something new. That's where David Strom, another UO professor, comes in. He is the coordinator for the trigger, which decides whether or not to save each event.

This is a delicate task, said Searcy. "If you do it wrong, it's like you never did the experiment in the first place."

For scientists to accurately measure the number of collisions occurring, they need to know how many particles the beam is made of. Associate professor Eric Torrence plays a key role in determining this value.

Searcy's doctoral research project was performed using the ATLAS detector. He noted that in return for the data returned by the multi-billion dollar machine, he worked as a shift leader to keep the machine running 24 hours a day. Luckily, he said, there were no major breakdowns on his watch.

I love that our scientists at the U of O are part of a discovery in physics that is the essential equivalent of biologists discovering DNA. Way to go, Ducks. Nice to see you making headlines for something other than football and Phil Knight.

Also, this news piece has one of the best and most clear explanations I've seen of the Higgs boson particle and why it matters. You should definitely check it out.

connect with blueoregon