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Louisiana Tech faculty, students making an 'impact' on atomic supercollider

Tech team is part of ATLAS collaboration for Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland

Faculty and students from Louisiana Tech University are playing an important role in what has been described as "the most complex and comprehensive science project ever assembled on the planet."

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project in Geneva, Switzerland is an underground "atom smasher" that seeks to re-enact the beginning of the universe, back to one-billionth of a second after the theorized Big Bang, by accelerating and colliding protons at near the speed of light.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) has reported that, after nearly a year of repairs, circulating beams were recently reintroduced into the LHC with the first successful proton collision occurring on November 23.

According to Dick Greenwood, associate professor of physics at Louisiana Tech, the ultimate objectives of the LHC experiments are to test the predictions of the Standard Model of particle physics and to look for new physics beyond the Standard Model.

"These experiments will also provide the general public a deeper understanding of how nature works and will inevitably lead to future technological spinoffs. The development of the Internet, for example, was a spinoff from previous experiments like those at the LHC."

The team from Louisiana Tech is part of the ATLAS collaboration; one of four large multipurpose particle detector systems. ATLAS (which stands for A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) investigates a wide range of physics, including the search for other dimensions, and particles that could make up 'dark matter.'

"All of the members of the Louisiana Tech ATLAS group are thrilled about the collision event, and of Louisiana Tech's continuing involvement in this scientific enterprise," said Lee Sawyer, associate professor and program chair for the physics department at Louisiana Tech.

Tech's team has directly contributed to the development of data quality software for measuring the energies of the particles produced in the collisions, the design and commissioning of current monitors for the ATLAS inner tracker, Monte Carlo simulations of the physics signals expected in the data, and designs for future upgrades.

"Louisiana Tech's contributions to the LHC research, and the competitive federal funding that supports it, verifies that our science faculty and students are among the best in the world," said Stan Napper, dean of Louisiana Tech's College of Engineering and Science.

"The key to making a difference in our state and for our students is maintaining education and research programs with nationally and internationally recognized quality."

More than 1700 scientists, engineers, students, and technicians from 97 US universities and national laboratories have helped design and build the LHC accelerator and its four massive particle detectors.

Discover, one of the world's premier science and technology magazines, placed the LHC project at No. 2 on its list of the Top 100 Stories of 2008.

Besides helping to either prove or disprove the Big Bang Theory, the LHC experiments could also help scientists address issues such as variations in particle mass, and the dynamics of matter and antimatter.

"Our faculty are contributing in significant ways to this major project of global importance," said Les Guice, Louisiana Tech's vice president for research and development. "The results of their research will impact science and engineering advancements for decades to come."

The success of the LHC's first proton collision is a benchmark for the project and one that the Louisiana Tech team hopes will result in future opportunities and collaborations.

Sawyer adds, "Now the hard work of understanding the detectors and the data being recorded will begin, followed soon I hope by important analyzes and discoveries."

Dave Guerin | EurekAlert!
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