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Alumnus Don Lincoln Part of History-Making Team Discovering a Higgs boson Particle

March 25, 2013

By Terri Hughes-Lazzell, Marketing Manager
  
This year’s Pi Day—3/14/2013—brought more confirmation that the particle discovered last summer at Europe’s CERN super collider was indeed a replica of the long-sought Higgs boson particle. Rose-Hulman alumnus Don Lincoln, PhD, was on the front lines of this scientific discovery.

         Licoln in lab
  Ground-Breaking Research: Alumnus Don Lincoln, Ph.D., stands in from of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector at the Switzerland's CERN Large Hadron Collider. The detector was one of the big experiments that was part of the discovery this summer that has been reported as being the Higgs boson particle. .
 
Lincoln says he enjoys “teasing out” the mysteries of the universe. He is a senior researcher at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and author of several books, including “The Quantum Frontier: The Large Hadron Collider.” Lincoln began his scientific studies at Rose-Hulman, double majoring in mathematics and physics.
 
While much work has been done in the area of particle physics, Lincoln says it is not over. “Technically, what we have confirmed is that the particle discovered at CERN last summer is very likely a Higgs boson. Whether it is the Higgs boson is pretty hard,” Lincoln says.
 
The Higgs theory proposed in 1964 had a single Higgs boson, he explains, adding that the Standard Model of particle physics is incomplete. There are some extensions to the Standard Model that predict five or more Higgs bosons. So, the work and research continues.
 
 Lincoln and others will continue to probe the discovered particle and measure as many of its properties as possible. “If any of the measured properties are different from those predicted by the Higgs boson theory that was developed in 1964, then it means we’ve found something new and that the Higgs theory has to be modified or possibly scrapped,” he explains. He adds, “Given how well the things we’ve measured thus far agree with the Higgs theory, scrapping seems unlikely, but modifying or extending could easily happen.”
 
Throughout this year and 2014, the Large Hadron Collider at Switzerland’s CERN accelerator complex is turned off for refurbishment, upgrades, and repairs. When it is turned back on in late 2014 or early 2015, it will have many improvements, including more energy, brighter beams, more collisions, and improved detectors. It will allow researchers to record two to five times as much data and to measure more precisely, Lincoln says.
 
Going forward, Lincoln has other research plans. He’s most curious about the ultimate building blocks of matter. “If I look at the quarks and leptons and the patterns in their properties, it tells me that there is some underlying physics causing these patterns,” he explains. “One possibility is to find something inside them. This is analogous to finding protons, neutrons, and electrons inside atoms.”
 
The search for Higgs boson dates back to 1964, when scientists were trying to understand the confusing data that was confronting them at the time. In the 1960s, physicists developed The Standard Model, which explains the elementary particles and forces that make up the universe, as we know it. However, there has been one remaining mystery—the mass of the subatomic particles. The Higgs boson is believed to be a particle or set of particles that might give others mass.
 
"The universe is an amazingly mysterious place, but mankind is teasing out its mysteries. But, even with the questions that remain unanswered, our current understanding is still fascinating," states Lincoln, who earned a doctorate degree in physics at Rice University. He is a strong proponent of bringing the physics frontier to general audiences, and has given many public lectures on science matters.
 
Read Lincoln’s recent blog entry on Public Broadcasting System’s NOVA science show website about the Higgs particle discovery. Dr. Lincoln can be followed at http://www.facebook.com/Dr.Don.Lincoln.