UCSD Physicists Take Part in World's Largest Experiment
UC San Diego physics professor Frank Wuerthwein never thought his work as a particle physicist would be front page news. But when the world's largest particle collider turned on its beam of protons near Geneva on September 10, Wuerthwein began receiving text messages from people he hardly knew congratulating him on the accomplishment.
"I have never in my life seen my field attract so much attention," he said with amazement on his way to the airport for his 20-hour flight to Geneva.
Wuerthwein is one of 24 UCSD physicists involved in the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, which this month begins the long-awaited quest to find the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle that physicists hope will allow them to finally tie together the fundamental forces and particles in nature into one grand theory. It is the world's largest experiment, 15 years in the making and involving an estimated 10,000 individuals from 60 countries, including more than 1,700 scientists and engineers from 94 U.S. universities and laboratories.
Since 1994, UCSD physicists have been shuttling between La Jolla and Geneva during their sabbaticals and teaching breaks to work on one of the European collider's two big particle detectors--the Compact Muon Solenoid, or CMS. Make that a gigantic particle detector.
"The CMS detector is 15 meters in diameter and weighs around the same as 30 jumbo jets or 2,500 African elephants," said Vivek Sharma, a professor of physics who participated in the LHC's historic grand opening. "And though it is the size of a cathedral, it contains detectors as precise as Swiss watches."