SA prof worked on finding Higgs particle

2012-07-05 07:26
This image shows a typical candidate event including two high-energy photons whose energy (depicted by red towers) is measured in the CMS electromagnetic calorimeter. (Cern, AP)

This image shows a typical candidate event including two high-energy photons whose energy (depicted by red towers) is measured in the CMS electromagnetic calorimeter. (Cern, AP)

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Johannesburg - Six South African universities, under the SA-Cern programme, played a key role in the observation the Higgs-like particle announced at the Cern facility in Geneva.

University of Johannesburg (UJ), contributed directly to one of the "channels" leading to the discovery of the Higgs-like particle.

UJ's Professor Simon Connell formed part of the group which worked on the "Higgs to four-lepton". The Higgs emerges as a result of protons smashing into each other at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern or European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

"The LHC smashes protons together with an energy density which is 100 000 times greater than the centre of the sun. This produces many particles with great multiplicity where finding the Higgs is like searching for a needle in a haystack," he told News24.

Connell said that soon after the collision the Higgs potentially decays into four-lepton particles which constituted the focus of his group's research.

South Africa's involvement in the Cern programme will lead to a variety of spinoffs for the country as a whole.

"Considering that the internet was a development that arose from Cern, South Africa has already begun incorporating a next generation computing grid being used at the facility," Connell said.

The new era of high performance computing is revolutionising medical research and hospital diagnostic technology.


Two independent research groups, CMS and Atlas, seek to discover the Higgs boson. On Wednesday the CMS team announced 4.9 "sigma rating" of certainty while Atlas reported five-sigma.

According to the rating system, five-sigma is required to claim that a discovery has less than one in a million chance of being a fluke.

"As a layman I would say I think we have it," the Guardian quoted the Cern's director general, Rolf Dieter Heuer, as saying.

Official verification of the particle may take some time, but scientists are unanimous in their acceptance of a newly discovered particle.


Physicists say the discovery of the Higgs boson will either complete the 48-year-old Standard Model or herald a new era in the field of particle physics.

The Higgs boson is presumed to be the smallest particle making up the Higgs field, an energy field present throughout the universe.

It is this field which interacts with every particle in the universe including planets and stars to give it mass.

- Follow Dane on Twitter

Read more on:    wits  |  cern  |  science  |  good news

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