March 2, 2007
UI Researchers Celebrate Milestone In Construction Of Particle Accelerator
University of Iowa researchers recently joined their U.S. and international colleagues in celebrating a construction milestone that will enable them to continue searching for the basic building blocks of matter.
The event took place at the construction site of the world's largest atom smasher -- the Large Hadron Collider accelerator at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland -- and involved lowering a gigantic magnet some 300 feet underground. Weighing as much as five jumbo jets and standing some 50 feet tall, the magnet is the heaviest piece of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) particle detector, a device of great interest to the Iowa researchers, who earlier contributed a component of their own design to the project.
"These are really exciting times at CERN," said Yasar Onel, professor of physics in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "Our particle detector -- called the subdetector HF-Forward Calorimetry device -- was prototyped, developed and designed at UI machine shops and became the first detector to go underground in the CMS collision hall in late November. Also, we have two research associates and one senior engineer from the UI who have been living in Geneva for the last three years while installing our equipment."
When completed later this year, the atom smasher will use magnets to accelerate two beams of protons so that they race around a 16.5-mile oval track in opposite directions. When they meet in a head-on collision, the protons will break apart, spraying particles in different directions.
The UI CMS team, which designed a portion of one of the particle detectors and will help detect the particles, includes Onel, Associate Professor Charles Newsom, and Emeritus Professors Ed Norbeck and Ed McCliment. Onel also serves as Photodetector Project Manager and Calorimetry Upgrade Coordinator for Super-LHC, and Newsom is involved in the Pixel Tracking detector. Shaowen Wang, research scientist at UI Information Technology Services, coordinates data transfer and analysis. The team also includes UI engineers Paul Debbins, Mike Fountain, Mike Miller and Ianos Schmidt as well as UI postdoctoral fellows Ugur Akgun, J.P.Merlo, A. Mestvirisvili and Taylan Yetkin.
The forward calorimeter will measure the energy of particles moving in a forward direction after the proton collision has taken place at the center of an energy mass of 14 trillion electron volts (TeV) -- enough energy to replicate, in miniature, conditions present during the early universe. The calorimeter's quartz fibers will give off light when struck by particles from the proton collisions.
Onel points out that researchers don't need to see the particles themselves. By measuring the light they give off, researchers will know the particles are present. He adds that the field of elementary particle physics is very exciting, with physicists aware of the fact that atoms are composed of electrons and nuclei, and nuclei are made up of protons and neutrons. Neutrons, in turn, are constructed of quarks, but that is currently the extent of mankind's knowledge.
He says that quarks and electrons may turn out to be the fundamental building blocks of nature, or they may be composed of something even more basic. No one knows. Researchers also say the LHC may allow them to: make fundamental discoveries about the universe, understand the behavior of certain particles, discover the origins of mass, shed light on dark matter, uncover hidden symmetries of the universe, and possibly find extra dimensions of space.
About one-third of the 1,500 CMS physicists are U.S. scientists working through the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill.
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