You could help Oxford and CERN scientists push back the frontiers of physics — from the comfort of your own home.
Online volunteers are being asked to help spot tiny explosions that could be evidence for new particles that will require new models of physics.
Higgs Hunters, a pioneering ‘citizen science’ project just launched by UK and US scientists, enables members of the public to view 25,000 images recorded at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. By tagging the origins of tracks on these images, volunteers could spot tiny sub-atomic explosions caused when a Higgs boson ‘dies’, which some scientists think could generate a kind of particle new to physics.
‘If anything, discovering what happens when a Higgs boson “dies” could be even more exciting than the original discovery that the Higgs boson exists, made at CERN back in 2012,’ said Professor Alan Barr of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, lead scientist of the Higgs Hunters project. ‘We want volunteers to help us go beyond the Higgs boson “barrier” by examining pictures of these collisions and telling us what they see.’
In the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, the gigantic particle accelerator near Geneva, protons are smashed together at up to one billion kilometres per hour. Such collisions can generate Higgs bosons, which are known to rapidly decay into other particles — and some scientists believe these could include a new type of previously unobserved particle. Simulations predict that these new particles should leave tell-tale tracks inside the ATLAS experiment, which computer programs find difficult to identify, but which human eyes can often pick out.
Professor Andy Haas of New York University said: ‘Writing computer algorithms to identify these particles is tough, so we’re excited to see how much better we can do when people help us with the hunt.’
Professor Chris Lintott of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, Zooniverse Principal Investigator, said: ‘The most exciting citizen science comes when you find the unexpected lurking amongst the data, and who knows what could be out there in the data from the ATLAS experiment?’
Professor Dave Charlton, spokesperson of the ATLAS Collaboration, said: ‘With the Higgs Hunters project, people can look directly at ATLAS data to help us find unexpected phenomena. Perhaps volunteers will be able to spot new physics with their own eyes.’
A successful detection of new particles would be a huge leap forward for particle physics, as they would lie beyond the Standard Model — the current best theory of the fundamental constituents of the Universe.
The Higgs Hunters project is a collaboration between scientists at the University of Oxford, New York University, the University of Birmingham, the Zooniverse project, and the ATLAS experiment at CERN. The project was funded by a Google Global Impact Award, by the UK’s Science & Technology Facilities Council, and by the US National Science Foundation.
This is an edited version of an article first published on the Oxford University News and Events page, and is reproduced with kind permission. Image: Higgs Hunters.