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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Physics faculty, students celebrate record-setting particle collisions, await new data stream

March 31, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Watching a live webcast yesterday from the Large Hadron Collider control room in Geneva, Indiana University physics professor Harold Ogren and Ph.D. candidate Denver Whittington, a generation apart, celebrated both the culmination and the continuation of a search to answer some of the most fundamental questions in their field.

Physics celebration photo

Faculty, staff and students from the IU Department of Physics who worked on the ATLAS project component of the Large Hadron Collider celebrated yesterday (March 30) after the particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland, registered a record energy level for a proton collision at 7 trilllion electron volts. The researchers now await new data from the world's largest supercollider.

Print-Quality Photo

For Ogren, smiling as he recognized the friends and fellow physicists 4,500 miles away at the LHC who for the first time were seeing protons collide at a record energy of 7 trillion electron volts (TeV), it was the culmination of 14 years of work on a key data monitoring component -- the transition radiation tracker (TRT) barrel -- being used in one of the $5 billion device's four primary particle detectors.

"But this event is also like the beginning of a marathon event, because it will be decades, certainly years, before it is determined whether or not we've identified the Higgs boson," Ogren said in reference to a theoretical particle that if detected could help explain the origin of mass. "And we're starting this marathon drinking champagne."

It was actually sparkling juice flowing around the second floor of Swain Hall West, but all Whittington tasted was opportunity as it hit home that that his dissertation research on top quarks -- a fundamental constituent of matter -- could finally move from studying computer-simulated collisions with algorithms called Monte Carlo experiments to analyzing actual data being spit out by the LHC.

"I'm looking for top quark production and decay, and this accelerator is going to be a 'top' factory," he said. "Of course we'll have to do reconstructions on the data, and then a validation of that reconstruction, and then a re-reconstruction. But I will soon be able to start making studies and comparing data to the Monte Carlo simulations."

The ongoing proton collisions that began yesterday (March 30) were recorded by the LHC experiments' particle detectors, known by their acronyms: ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb. While the LHC accelerator brings the protons up to their maximum energy and steers them around the 16-mile ring into collision, the experiments use the massive particle detectors to record and analyze the collision debris.

Ogren, fellow IU team leader Hal Evans and their group designed the $11 million TRT, a tracking system designed to measure the momentum of particles emitted from proton-proton collisions that is part of the 7,000-ton, $540 million ATLAS detector. At IU, a team of four faculty members, three research scientists, three post-doctoral students and three graduate students worked on the ATLAS experiment.

Over the next 18 to 24 months, the LHC accelerator will deliver enough collisions at 7 TeV to enable significant advances in a number of research areas, Whittington said, as data begins to pour in for more than 8,000 LHC scientists around the world.

As part of the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid, IU is partnering with the University of Chicago to jointly manage the ATLAS project's Midwest Tier2 (MWT2) computing center, with hardware split approximately equally between them. The IU portion of the MWT2 is located in Indianapolis on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

IU also developed a Web portal being used by the LHC called MyOSG that consolidates and presents information to create custom user views from multiple grid data sources. Originally developed for the Open Science Grid (OSG), for which IU serves as the grid operations center, MyOSG was adopted by Enabling Grids for E-sciencE (EGEE), a European grid infrastructure that supports the LHC. Together, OSG and EGEE provide the majority of grid computational power that drives the LHC.

To speak with Ogren, Whittington or Evans, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or