Physics Alumnus Don Lincoln Helps International Team Discover Possible Higgs Boson Particle

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

By Terri Hughes-Lazzell, Marketing Manager

Rose-Hulman alumnus Don Lincoln, Ph.D., joined scientists throughout the world this summer in celebrating the discovery of a new particle, one with similar characteristics belonging to the long-sought Higgs boson. This may be the last missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics.

Lincoln is a senior researcher at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy site dedicated to exploring the frontiers of high-energy physics. He also spends research time at Switzerland's CERN Large Hadron Collider, where the groundbreaking discovery was made.

The search for Higgs boson dates back to the turn of the 20th Century when scientists were trying to understand atoms. 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.

"We know what we found is something new," says Lincoln, a 1986 Rose-Hulman physics and mathematics graduate. "Metaphorically, it certainly looks like and smells like the Higgs boson, but now we need to verify the other three senses."

That verification may come in December or early next year. If it is not the Higgs boson, but something new that looks like it, that would result in rewriting longstanding scientific theories.

"Science isn't about being right and not holding to today's ideas. If that means we need to throw out our current theory, so be it," Lincoln says.

If the discovery is indeed Higgs boson, there will be other questions for scientists to answer. The most pressing question-Why Are We Here?-may be Lincoln's challenge.

"I'm having a blast doing what I'm doing," says Lincoln, who specializes in searching for subatomic particles smaller than quarks. "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."

Lincoln, who earned his Ph.D. in physics at Rice University, has co-authored more than 500 scientific publications. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Notre Dame. He also has written two books about particle physics, both of which give more details about the Higgs boson and how scientists have searched for it.

He is a strong proponent of bringing the physics frontier to general audiences, and has given many public lectures on science matters. Earlier this year he was also a finalist to present at TED2013, and is working with the TED organization to develop science animations as part of their TED-ED initiative.