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Minds over Matter

Ohio State physicists helped prove theory that won the Nobel

The science behind the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was 50 years in the making—and is partly attributable to Ohio State physicists who devoted their professional lives to finding a mysterious subatomic particle.

When this year’s Nobelists, Peter Higgs and François Englert, first proposed the existence of the Higgs boson with now deceased colleague Robert Brout in 1964, their notions of an unseen particle became central to modern physics. Scientists speculated for decades that the theory would earn a Nobel. But the speculation grew much louder when a particle matching the Higgs’ description was discovered at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2012.

Eight Ohio State physicists were among thousands worldwide who labored to design, build and run experiments that would render the Higgs visible. Over that time, scores of Ohio State students earned their degrees hunting for the particle, developing and testing new technology that would ultimately become part of the LHC.

Buckeyes designed and built the electronics that detected the Higgs, crafted the computer algorithms that identified it and rigorously analyzed the data until the announcement could be made last summer that the particle had indeed been found.

The project is far from over. Faculty and students will continue to study the Higgs data—some of which is collected at the Ohio Supercomputer Center—and uncover its implications for science in the decades to come.

The Ohio State faculty involved in the project are:

• Christopher Hill, associate professor of physics, is deputy physics coordinator for the LHC’s Compact Muon Solenoid experiment and is responsible for overseeing all analyses of CMS data.

• With 19 years of experience at CERN, Stan Durkin, professor of physics, and T.Y. Ling, professor emeritus of physics, designed and built a greater portion of the Endcap Muon System electronics for CMS.

• K.K. Gan, Richard Kass and Harris Kagan, all professors of physics, developed computer chips for the pixel detectors within the LHC’s ATLAS experiment.

• Brian Winer and Richard Hughes, both professors of physics, have more than 25 years of experience at Fermi National Laboratory’s Tevatron accelerator, where they created particle-hunting computer algorithms called neural networks, which mimic the learning process of the human brain. While still working at Fermilab, the two joined the LHC’s CMS experiment a year ago.