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Physics Grant Announcement

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Published on Jul 8, 2014

The world's largest atom smasher has proved invaluable at answering fundamental questions about the nature of the universe, including finding the Higgs boson, but much remains unknown. A team of UNL physicists and collaborators at eight U.S. universities have received a five-year, nearly $11.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to increase the effectiveness of a vital component of the supercollider that made the Higgs discovery possible.

Built by a global collaboration of physicists, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN laboratory in Switzerland propels two high-energy particle beams in opposite directions around a 16.6-mile ring of superconducting magnets. Seeing what happens when the two superfast-moving beams collide gives scientists important insights into the basic building blocks that make up the universe.

The UNL team was part of the multi-institutional collaboration that built the original Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, one of two large particle detector experiments at the Large Hadron Collider. With this new NSF grant, they now lead a large research partnership to upgrade the detector in stages through 2019. Their collaborators are at the University of Kansas, University of Illinois at Chicago, Rutgers University, Cornell University, SUNY Buffalo, Purdue University Calumet, Notre Dame University and Northeastern University.

"As the accelerator has ramped up in intensity and in energy, our detectors will no longer be able to keep up with the rate of data coming out of the collisions, and they get damaged by radiation present near the collision point," said UNL physicist Aaron Dominguez, who leads this collaboration. "They have to be replaced and upgraded to improve our sensitivity."

Capturing images of the explosion requires an enormously powerful digital camera, or pixel detector. UNL's role is to build new modules for the pixel detector that will be capable of taking 40 million images a second at a total resolution of more than 120 million pixels. Consumer digital cameras top out at about 12 million pixels. The images are used to create a kind of movie of the particles' paths in less than 10 micron increments.

"This will be the largest, most precise pixel tracking detector ever built," Dominguez said. "It should allow us greater sensitivity to see the Higgs boson and to see and discover new forms of matter."

Their university partners are upgrading the CMS Hadron calorimeter and trigger system, as well as assisting with aspects of the pixel detector. The calorimeter measures the energy of hadron particles, such as protons, which helps detect if new particles were formed during the collision; the trigger system is a sophisticated method to capture the relevant data out of the billions of interactions that occur within a collision.

"This grant is an outstanding example of UNL providing leadership and expertise in international science that is leading to new discoveries," said UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman.

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