York researchers contributed to the Higgs Boson particle discovery, which is the foundation upon which our current understanding of the material universe is built

Higgs boson blue in computer generated fractal background

Professor Wendy Taylor, Faculty of Science, is a member of the team of researchers who made the discovery of the Higgs-like particle, which is the foundation upon which our current understanding of the material universe is built.

Taylor is part of a research team that conducts the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Geneva, Switzerland. The ATLAS experiment is an international collaboration of 3000 physicists from more than 170 universities and laboratories in 38 countries, with a large Canadian effort. Particle physicists were hopeful that ATLAS would expose the nature of the Higgs boson, a particle postulated to be the reason why some particles have mass while others, like the photon, are massless. Proof of the Higgs Boson’s existence is extremely important for our understanding of the subatomic world.

Taylor, with the use of the IBM System Cluster 1350 supercomputer, was charged with a crucial task: she and her students designed “trigger algorithms” – a method of distilling the data generated by these collisions down to 200 per second, which were then stored for analysis at remote sites, such as the supercomputer at TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for subatomic physics. These algorithms were helpful in identifying “jets” or “sprays” of particles that would indicate the presence of a Higgs boson. Taylor’s group also helps operate and maintain the Transition Radiation Tracker of the ATLAS experiment. This Tracker records the trajectories of charged particles from the collisions, permitting the identification of the Higgs boson. In 2012, after the ATLAS experiment recorded and analyzed trillions of 8-TeV proton-proton collisions, the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced.

In 2015, the LHC delivered the first 13-TeV proton-proton collisions. The ATLAS experiment is analyzing this data now and looks forward to collecting more data this year. The current aim of the ATLAS experiment is to understand better the properties of the Higgs boson and to search for hypothetical particles such as dark matter and magnetic monopoles.

Taylor’s research now focuses on the search for magnetic monopoles at ATLAS. All magnetic objects that have ever been observed have a north pole at one end and a south pole at the other end. A magnetic monopole is a particle postulated to carry only a south or a north pole. If a magnetic monopole exists, theory shows that this would explain why there appears to be a fundamental unit of electric charge. That is, it is apparently not possible to have an electric charge smaller than that of an electron. This is one of the outstanding mysteries in particle physics. They have seen no sign of magnetic monopoles so far in the 7-TeV and 8-TeV data, but they now have 13-TeV data for the first time.

The York ATLAS group also helps operate and maintain the Transition Radiation Tracker in the ATLAS inner detector. This work includes performance studies, Monte Carlo simulation and digitization, low- and high-threshold optimization, and some readout electronics (including firmware development). Taylor’s electronics test and development laboratory, funded by a generous grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, includes the state of the art equipment necessary for such leading-edge electronics projects.

To learn more about Professor Taylor’s research, please visit her website.