Northeastern at Fermilab

Photo by Erik Charlton via Flickr.

If you hap­pened to find your­self on Fermilab’s home­page today, you would find there a handy link to today’s “Uni­ver­sity Pro­file,” which high­lights Northeastern.

One of 118 uni­ver­si­ties that rely on Fer­milab to per­form research, Northeastern’s research team focuses on the detec­tion of two types of sub-​​atomic par­ticle: the muon and the photon.

Fer­milab was home to the Teva­tron, a four-​​mile long par­ticle col­lider that slammed pro­tons and antipro­tons into head-​​on col­li­sions close to the speed of light. Having achieved the reaches of its capa­bil­i­ties, Teva­tron was shut down a year ago. Now, the North­eastern team at Fer­milab has shifted most of its work over to the Large Hadron Col­lider in Switzer­land. Run­ning more than four times the length of the Teva­tron, the LHC is able to detect par­ti­cles of much higher energy.

Two detec­tors sit along its cir­cum­fer­ence and one — the Com­pact Muon Sole­noid detector — is of par­tic­ular interest to Northeastern’s team. Weighing in at 12,000 tons and standing more than four sto­ries high, CMS has a few dif­ferent com­po­nents. The  parts of the detector (which is set up like an onion with sev­eral layers) that North­eastern works on include the out­er­most detector, which hunts down muons, and the elec­tro­mag­netic calorimeter nearer to the center.

Muons and pho­tons are two types of sub­atomic par­ticle that have been mea­sured and iden­ti­fied. Sev­eral others (like the Higgs boson you may have heard about recently) remain some­what elu­sive. The stan­dard model of physics, which cannot account for some things we observe in the uni­verse (like dark energy), may be at a cross­roads if pre­vi­ously uniden­ti­fied par­ti­cles show their faces at the LHC.

Northeastern’s team uses CMS to look at all the dif­ferent par­ti­cles that splinter out after a proton col­li­sion. When they find sig­na­tures of pre­vi­ously uniden­ti­fied par­ti­cles, they put ‘em in the back pocket for fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion. These could be evi­dence of some­thing com­pletely new: some­thing that can only be explained with a new model of physics.