The year 2009 saw one of the most exciting development in high energy physics in a generation, the first data from a new instrument, the CERN large hadron collider (LHC for short) in Geneva, Switzerland, that is now the world highest energy accelerator, and thus, if you recall Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the world’s most powerful microscope. K-State physicists are deeply involved with one of the main experiments using the LHC called the Compact Muon Spectrometer (CMS). Proton-collisions with center-of-mass energy of 2.4 trillion electron results have been observed at CMS. This energy just nudges out the Fermilab Tevatron, located near Chicago, which has been the site of KSU HEP research for over a decade.
The KSU LHC effort is led by assistant professors Yurii Maravin and Andrew Ivanov, along with professor Tim Bolton. Yurii specializes in studying collisions that produce very high energy photons and electrons, using these to test many models for new physics effects that can occur at LHC energies. Andrew studies properties of interactions that produce the heaviest of Nature’s six quark, called “top”. The top quark is as heavy as a gold nucleus. Why? We have no idea. Perhaps the LHC will provide clues. Tim is interested in events that contain multiple weak vector bosons, the W and Z which mediate the weak nuclear force in the same way that the photon mediates electromagnetism.
K-State’s LHC physics effort literally operates all over the world. Graduate students Irakli Chakaberia, Misha Makouski, and Irakli Svintradze, joined by post-doc Zongru Wan, are stationed at the LHC remote operations facility at Fermilab. On the other side of the lab, post-doc Dmitry Bandurin and graduate student Ketino Kaadze work to finish analysis of Tevatron data that will help map out the physics program at LHC. On the other side of the Atlantic, post-doc Anne-Fleur Barfuss directly supports CMS experimental operations at CERN. And on the other side of Switzerland from CERN, graduate student Shruti Shrestha works with colleagues at the Swiss Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) to develop silicon pixel tracking detectors for the next generation of LHC experiments. Our venture with PSI is part of an NSF-funded “PIRE” initiative in internationally collaborative research and education with four other US universities.
While the LHC provides protons with energies over a million times higher than the James R. Macdonald Lab’s venerable tandem Van de Graaf accelerator, assistant professor Glenn Horton-Smith uses beams of particles with energies that the Macdonald Lab would have no trouble producing. The catch is that Glenn, along with Tim Bolton, uses beams of neutrinos produced by nuclear reactors. This experiment, called “Double Chooz”, or DC for short, uses a high power nuclear reactor in France. Double Chooz will try to establish whether the antineutrinos produced by nuclear fission decay products oscillate into other types of neutrinos. These oscillations are only possible because the three neutrino types each have a very tiny mass, perhaps a billionth of that of the electron. K-State has developed key components of the software used for DC and has designed and fabricated the environmental monitoring system for the DC detector with the help of KSU’s Electronic Design Laboratory.
K-State’s neutrino team consists of post-doc David McKee and graduate students Pi-Jung Chang and Deepak Shrestha. Once more the effort is world-wide, with Deepak currently stationed in Paris, while David and Pi-Jung travel back and forth between Manhattan and the DC site near the French-Belgian border.
The HEP group continues to be active in outreach and educational activities. Its Quarknet project for Kansas high schools finished its sixth year, and KSU Quarknet teacher Penny Blue of Lyons High School was selected as the 2009 physics high school teacher of the year by the Arkansas-Oklahoma-Kansas section of the American Association of Physics Teachers. The group has also continued its “Origins” projects through a new NSF funded program called EIDROP, which partners KSU graduate students with Junction City High School classrooms. Our NSF-funded PIRE program has sent three KSU undergraduates to spend a semester taking classes at “Switzerland’s MIT”, ETH-Zurich, and to perform research at PSI. These students (Codi Gharagouzloo, Asma Al Rawi, and Hank Lamm) are all graduates of Kansas high schools.
The varied program of the HEP group would not be possible without the expert support from group administrator Pamela Anderson, ably supported by undergraduate accounting intern Aubrey Carrara. We bid adieu in 2009 to new physics PhDs Alexey Ferapontov and Mark Smith last year. Alexey now works as a post-doc at Brown University, while Mark is an instructor at Washburn University. Post-doc Dimitry Onoprienko also moved on to take a staff position with Fermilab. We were joined this past year by new assistant professor Andrew Ivanov and new post-doc Anne-Fleur Barfuss.
After this long post, we’ll sum up with three ten work answers to profound questions that you might have about our research:
Q: What is the main scientific question that the LHC will be used to answer?
A: Radioactivity, weak at low energies, strong at high energies, why?
Q: What can neutrino oscillations tell us?
A: Something killed all the antimatter; maybe the neutrinos did it.
Q: How can I get better answers to these questions?
A: Ask Tim, Glenn, Andrew, or Yurii; then try Larry Weaver!