Skip to Content
MIT News magazine

Hunting for Higgs

MIT researchers take part in the world’s biggest physics experiment
October 20, 2008

MIT physics professor Steven Nahn, PhD ‘98, felt “guarded jubilation” on the morning of September 10, when a beam of protons completed the first 27-­kilometer trip around the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland. The huge particle accelerator could help scientists understand some of the biggest mysteries of the physical world.

Ultimately, the LHC will accelerate beams of subatomic particles in opposite directions and smash them into each other. These collisions will produce new particles, which Nahn and his group can detect and analyze by tracking their paths through the magnetic fields of the accelerator’s detectors. They hope that one such particle will be the Higgs boson, which is what many scientists believe endows some of the smallest units of matter with mass. Within three years, “we should be able to say definitively whether the Higgs model is correct or if there is something entirely new,” Nahn says.

In addition to setting the stage for the discovery of new particles, the high-energy collisions will enable scientists to study matter under extreme conditions. By late 2009, they will begin to study collisions between lead nuclei, potentially allowing them to simulate conditions in the universe one-millionth of a second after the Big Bang, says Gunther Roland, an MIT physics professor involved in the research.

Scientists hope to witness the first proton collisions by the end of 2008. “At the very beginning, it will be chaos,” says Nahn. “It will be great.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.