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The Quest for Higgs Boson at CERN


Happy New Year! I’m sure many of you are looking forward to the exciting new things that 2012 has to offer. Being part of the Science and Big Physics team at National Instruments, I am personally very excited about what 2012 will bring on the particle physics front: the evidence of the existence of the Higgs Boson particle (i.e. God Particle)? Irrefutable proof  that neutrinos travel faster than light (OPERA Experiment)? My excitement comes from the fact that National Instruments platforms are used both in the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN and also for the OPERA experiment at Gran Sasso National Laboratory (LNGS) near L’Acquila, Italy. For more about the OPERA experiment and breaking the speed of light, read this article titled “Is Einstein’s Theory in Danger?” This Sweet Apps covers the Higgs Boson pursuit.

The LHC at CERN hosts six experiments and two (ATLAS and CMS) are dedicated to finding the Higgs Boson, extra dimensions, and particles that could make up dark matter. The quest for the ever-elusive Higgs Boson is the more commonly known objective behind the construction of LHC at CERN, where NI PXI and reconfigurable I/O (RIO) platforms control the collimator of the hadrons (either protons or lead ions) that go around the 27 km accelerator near the Swiss French border. Learn more about CERN and hear from the CERN scientists and engineers about how they are using NI products.

Perhaps you’ve read or heard something about the Higgs Boson, which in essence is the underlying foundation for the Standard Model for particle physics. Here is my high-level explanation for the non-physicists like me: the Higgs Boson is a hypothetical elementary particle associated with the Higgs field, proposed by Dr. Peter Higgs. The Higgs field gives the subatomic particles its mass. The more a subatomic particle interacts with the Higgs field, the higher its mass, which explains why sub-atomic particles that appear similar in size have different mass. The Higgs field consists of countless Higgs Bosons, just like if you are in water; it is filled with countless H2O molecules. The Higgs field and Higgs Boson is still theoretical and scientists are looking to validate the Standard Model by finding the Higgs Boson.

To find the Higgs Boson, scientists crash beams of protons into each other from opposite directions and massive detectors (CMS and ATLAS) are in place to detect Higgs Boson. The energy of the proton beam at full power is so high that it can melt a 1,100 pound block of copper.  As you can probably guess, it is extremely important that the protons from this high-energy beam do not stray from their path and are reliably controlled. This is where NI RIO and the PXI platform come in: CERN takes advantage of the reliability of the FPGA in the NI RIO platform and uses it to move blocks of graphite in place to absorb the protons that are not in the nominal path of the beam or, in other words, go astray. This process is commonly known as “collimation.” Since this is a 27 km tunnel, there are more than 100 of these collimators around the tunnel that have to be synchronized accurately and reliably.

>> Learn more about how the system works and how CERN engineers are using more than 200 PXI systems


I wonder how big of an error there would have to be in the "known" location of a GPS satelite over either of the physics laboratories to result in a timing measurement that would yield the observed speed of light calculations from these much publicised experiments.