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Physics Alumnus Lauds Nobel Prize-Winning Higgs boson Achievement

October 9, 2013

Meeting Nobel Prize Winner: Don Lincoln (right), a 1986 physics alumnus, enjoyed meeting 2013 Nobel Prize-winning physicist Peter Higgs in Europe this summer. (Photo provided)

Awarding the 2013 Nobel Prize to two physicists who predicted the existence of the renowned Higgs boson is an affirmation about the rules that govern the universe, and a “wonderful event for particle physics,” says Don Lincoln, a Rose-Hulman physics alumnus who played a role in the groundbreaking scientific discovery.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences recently honored Francois Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of the United Kingdom for their research on the theory of particle masses–nearly 50 years ago. In July 2012, evidence of a new particle thought to be the Higgs boson was reported by two separate research teams—CMS and ATLAS—at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest atom smasher located in Europe. The discovery, confirmed this March, was the missing piece of the puzzle predicted by the Standard Model, the reigning theory of particle physics.

Lincoln’s scientific contribution to the discovery include development of experimental techniques that were incorporated into the analysis, making sure that the billions of particle collisions recorded to tape contained good data. He also provided a careful review of the final scientific paper that described the analysis.

“I am thrilled to see this prize awarded and, personally, I am delighted to have played a small role in the discovery,” says Lincoln, a 1986 alumnus who is a senior experimental particle scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. He contributed to the team conducting the CMS experiment. “This is a capping achievement that honors the scientific discovery by so many scientists over the past 50 years.”

With the Standard Model now complete, Lincoln and other physicists are now probing other enduring mysteries that abound beyond the visible realm of the universe. These include understanding the role of gravity and looking for signs of enigmatic dark matter and dark energy—the invisible material that makes up about 96 percent of the universe.

“The Higgs boson is the last page of the chapter, not the last chapter of the book on understanding the universe,” says Lincoln. “We have a good understanding about the beginning of the universe, but there are still questions for us to answer.” (Among his books are “The Quantum Frontier: The Large Hadron Collider,” published by Johns Hopkins, and a new book about the Large Hadron Collider that tells the exciting saga of the startup of the accelerator and the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Lincoln spent October 8-9 helping the news media appreciate the magnitude of the Nobel Prize announcement and understand the complexities of the Higgs boson particle. He was featured in stories published by, Scientific America, NOVA, LiveScience, Science News, and the Christian Science Monitor. His popular NOVA physics blog entry for October 8 covered the prize announcement.

Lincoln explains the Higgs boson in the following video made in collaboration with the TED organization.

"It's been really gratifying, as a particle physicist, to see how people have been so interested in the Higgs boson," he told LiveScience. "It's been almost NASA-level interest, and I'm hoping it will translate into recognition by the nation and the world science community."

Lincoln received the European Physical Society HEPP Outreach award earlier this year for communicating in multiple media the excitement of high-energy physics to students, educators, and the general public. He explains both his work and that of his colleagues on Facebook.

Read a profile about Lincoln featured on this website earlier this year here.