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Michigan researchers help find Higgs-like particle, win bet with Stephen Hawking

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—An international group of scientists including University of Michigan researchers have found a particle that is likely the Higgs boson, the long-sought missing piece of physics' Standard Model, officials announced this week in Switzerland.

More than a dozen U-M researchers and graduate students are currently involved in the search for Higgs, a heavy particle that is theorized to give certain elementary particles mass. Higgs is the linchpin of the Standard Model—the overarching physics theory that describes the laws of nature and the nature of matter.

Michigan researchers, with help from more than 60 undergraduates, also played leading roles in designing and building components of ATLAS, one of the two detectors used in the Higgs search.

"This is a historic moment," said Jianming Qian, professor of physics in the U-M College of Literature, Science and the Arts. "We're excited and tired. Our students have been working day and night."

Qian, who attended the seminar at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, led a group of more than 100 scientists searching on one particular channel in the ATLAS experiment. In total, more than 1,000 researchers from across the globe have been involved in the search on ATLAS and another detector called CMS. The Large Hadron Collider is the world's largest particle accelerator.

"The U-M group has put forth an intense effort in this quest," said Homer Neal, the Samuel A Goudsmit Distinguished University Professor of Physics and the Institutional Leader for the U-M ATLAS team. "I couldn't be more proud."

Neal has been working at CERN periodically for more than 40 years. He was also on the board of overseers of the Superconducting Super Collider project in Texas that was scrapped in 1993 in the early stages of construction.

"Many of us who have been eager to search for the Higgs boson and to explore other particles have been waiting not just during the period we've been working on the CERN LHC, but even before then, as we watched the Texas project undergo years of planning and then crumble," Neal said in 2010.

U-M physicists involved in the search predicted in May that Higgs would be found this summer. And late last year, theoretical physicist Gordon Kane used string theory calculations to predict the mass of the Higgs. His calculations are consistent with the new findings from CERN.

The new results could also make Kane $100 richer. He had a bet with renowned physicist Stephen Hawking over whether Higgs would ever be discovered.

"I surely won," Kane said, "but I have not heard directly from him yet."

Hawking acquiesced in a BBC interview.

Kane is the Victor Weisskopf Distinguished University Professor of Physics in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Other U-M researchers involved in this project include physics professors Bing Zhou and Rudolf Thun, assistant physics professor Junjie Zhu, and physics professor emeritus J. Chapman.

 

Related Links:

CERN press release: http://press.web.cern.ch/press/PressReleases/Releases2012/PR17.12E.html

U.S. Fermilab press release: http://www.fnal.gov/pub/presspass/press_releases/2012/Higgs-Search-LHC-20120704.html

U-M researchers predict discovery of Higgs boson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=iVDBWJq52kE

U-M physicist Gordon Kane describes Higgs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Jdgp84m8jck