FIU physicists celebrate Nobel Prize for Higgs boson theory

FIU physicists celebrated the news today that the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Peter W. Higgs and François Englert for their work in developing what is now known as the Higgs field.

Awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, this year’s prize recognizes nearly five decades of work that led to a 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson, the particle linked to the mechanism that gives mass to elementary particles. In the spring of 2013, scientists with the Compact Muons Solenoid (CMS) and ATLAS experiments performed at CERN’s Large Haldron Collider confirmed the discovery.

Along with their students, FIU professors Pete E.C. Markowitz, Jorge L. Rodriguez and research scientist Stephan Linn helped design, build and operate the CMS experiment at CERN’s LHC accelerator. The CMS experiment is a general-purpose detector designed to collect data from proton-proton collisions at the highest energies produced by man. A grant awarded to FIU’s Center for High Energy Physics Research and Education Outreach from the National Science Foundation supports this CMS collaboration.

“The impact of our discovery means that we are a large step closer to understanding our universe,” Markowitz said. “July 4, 2012, really did change our picture of the world around us. Personally, it has been a huge amount of fun to be a part of such a productive, exciting experiment.”

In 1964, Peter Higgs and other theorists published papers introducing key concepts in the theory of the Higgs field. Today, more than 6,000 international physicists are working on experiments from their home institutions, remotely assessing and analyzing data through high-capacity networks and grid computing.

“The Nobel committee’s decision to acknowledge this work affirms its importance to physics in general, not just particle physics,” Rodriguez said. “It is indeed a major discovery, but not by any means the answer to all of the basic fundamental questions still left unresolved. The list is rather long, but a bit less long now.”

At FIU, Rodriguez focuses on experimental particle physics, exploring the structure of matter at its most fundamental. He studies high-performance computing with a particular focus on improving research productivity in high-energy physics and science in general, a key component of the CERN experiment.  Markowitz also works at Jefferson Lab, a nuclear physics laboratory, where he is co-spokesman of a series of experiments in the lab’s experimental Hall-A. This work explores how strange quarks behave.