An Israeli scientist whose efforts led to the discovery of the “God particle” has stressed that the project is far from over.
Technion professor Shlomit Tarem is one of 2,500 physicists from 37 countries who helped build Atlas, the largest of the six particle detector experiments constructed at the Large Hadron Collider at the Cern facility.
After working on the project for 16 years, she said it was fantastic to finally be able to tell the world that they had found the Higgs boson, the particle that it has long been believed gives matter mass and holds together the physical fabric of the universe.
“You expect to wait a lot of time,” she said. “It’s not like you buy something off the shelf and install it and start the experiment. On the other hand, when we discover something big, it’s exciting.”
Prof Tarem’s role was in designing the algorithm to select which collisions should be looked at. “You have 20 million collisions per second and you can only collect the data from something like 400 per second,” she said. Thanks to her work, Cern scientists could collect collisions with “the potential to contain interesting physics, such as the Higgs boson”.
“We didn’t want to lose them,” she said.
Prof Tarem, who lives in Israel but divides her time between Haifa and Switzerland, was one of the scientists in the room in September 2008, when the first high-energy proton beams were circulated in both directions.
Like other Cern physicists, she had been aware they were close to a breakthrough since last year. “We were finding more and more collisions which we thought contained the Higgs boson,” she said. “But up until three weeks ago it was not certain that we could say we’d discovered it.”
She said the discovery was significant because there had been only “a very small window left” to find the Higgs boson. “This year we either found it or excluded it everywhere.”