“If the Higgs boson exists, we will find it at CERN in 2012”. That is the view of Torsten Åkesson, professor of Physics in Lund and one of those responsible for the initiative of CERN’s largest research investment, the ATLAS experiment station.
Torsten Åkesson sounds surprisingly confident when he talks about the search for the much-discussed Higgs boson. Before the current suspension of activity at the accelerator, researchers had produced data in December 2011 proving that they were on the right track to the discovery of the Higgs boson. In April the proton collisions in the accelerator will resume and the researchers are now hoping for results that will prove the existence of the particle.
“This is going to be a crucial year. If we don’t run into technical problems we will see the Higgs boson if it exists”, says Torsten Åkesson.
But why such a hunt for a tiny, unknown particle? Why is the Higgs boson so important? Torsten Åkesson explains that without the Higgs boson, the Standard Model doesn’t work. The Standard Model is the theory (natural law) used by physicists to describe the world. And for the theory to hold, there must be another type of particle with a certain mass, namely the Higgs boson.
However, Torsten Åkesson explains that researchers nowadays believe the Standard Model is merely a part of a larger theory to describe the world. The Standard Model only deals with the matter that is known to science. The insight that most of the universe is in fact composed of unknown dark matter and dark energy (see article in sidebar) makes particle physics into an even greater adventure.
“We don’t know what dark matter is, we have only conjecture. Maybe we can produce it here at CERN and discover it at ATLAS”, says Torsten Åkesson.
The Higgs boson and dark matter are but some of the questions to which answers are being sought in the many research projects at ATLAS. Are there more forces than the four known fundamental forces? Can there be extra spatial dimensions in addition to the three that humans can perceive? And how small are the building blocks of our world really – is there anything smaller that a quark?
One person who is prepared to throw herself into this adventure is Lene Bryngemark, a new Lund doctoral student with Torsten Åkesson as her main supervisor. Her task is to investigate, unconditionally, what might turn up out of the most extreme energy-rich environment that is created by the proton collisions.
“This is about a broad search for a new area of physics, with no particular model to follow”, she says enthusiastically.