UVic plays key role in Higgs boson research

Search for ‘God particle’ helps us understand how everything we know came to be

On the morning of a press conference some said could herald the scientific discovery of the century, Rob McPherson and his wife were debating who would take their son to early hockey practice.

McPherson, an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria and his wife, Isabel Trigger, are both particle physicists involved in research that’s trying to further our understanding of how everything as we know it came to be.

Serving as a spokesperson for Atlas-Canada, McPherson ended up staying home to watch the announcement by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN.

“It’s fantastically exciting,” McPherson said about the news, which he spent the day explaining to media outlets across the country.

McPherson and Trigger are among 3,000 physicists working with the Atlas team at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. Switzerland. Atlas and a competing team known as CMS both released results on Tuesday offering a tantalizing glimpse into the behaviour of the elusive Higgs boson particle.

The Higgs boson has so far only existed as a theory, though one necessary for the Standard Model of physics to work.

“Higgs, by itself, can’t be the whole story,” McPherson said. “There has to be something else to keep it stable.”

Which is why McPherson thinks that while calling Higgs boson “the God particle” is a great way to capture the public’s imagination, there are many more questions that need answering.

If scientists succeed in definitively discovering the Higgs bosun particle – expected to happen next year  – the next step will be to find what else is hiding. Theories about mysteries such as dark matter, thought to make up most of the matter in the universe, and even extra dimensions in spacetime could be opened up for closer study.

UVic has played a key role in the development of Atlas, which searched for the Higgs boson by using the massive particle accelerator at CERN. Particles are torn apart at tremendous force and slammed into layers of lead and liquid argon. Scientists measure how the energy produced by the collision relates to theories about what we already know about subatomic particles. What scientists with both Atlas and CMS found was evidence of activity on a scale that fits into where theories suggest the Higgs boson should be.

Finding this elusive particle is a big deal because it would help with our understanding of what happened in the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. That’s how long it took, theories suggest, before “stuff” began to stick together in our universe.

Or, as McPherson explained to his nine-year-old hockey playing son, we’re a little closer to understanding how to build planets, stars and even ourselves.

editor@saanichnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pandemic spurs egg-citement for backyard chickens in Greater Victoria

Fowl surge in popularity during COVID-19 pandemic

Saanich looks at allowing alcohol in parks after North Vancouver gives the green light

Bylaw allowing liquor in parks ‘a very positive idea,’ mayor says

Pandemic profiles: Passion at the heart of community businesses

Businesses rely on community support to stay open

Friends, family mourn Salt Spring Island woman killed in suspected murder-suicide

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched for Jennifer Quesnel’s three sons

Organizer, Victoria councillor, VicPD talk about upcoming rally for Black lives

‘It’s a simple ask’: Peace rally for Black lives organizer asks people to listen

Trudeau offers $14B to provinces for anti-COVID-19 efforts through rest of year

Making a difference in municipalities is a pricey proposition

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Indigenous families say their loved ones’ deaths in custody are part of pattern

Nora Martin joins other Indigenous families in calling for a significant shift in policing

‘Alarmed’: Health critic calls for more data on COVID-19 in trucking industry

Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec said that level of detail is not being collected

UPDATED: Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park arrested

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

POLL: Are you sending your children back to school this month?

Classrooms looked decidedly different when students headed back to school for the… Continue reading

Most Read