|Celebrations at CERN after the Nobel announcement
New Delhi, Oct. 8: Samosas in Chandigarh, sliced cake in Mumbai and champagne near Geneva — geography and opportunity determined how physicists celebrated the 2013 Nobel Prize for physics.
Minutes after the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the 2013 winners in Stockholm this morning, Kajari Mazumdar, her colleagues and students walked into the ground-floor cafeteria at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and ordered sliced cake, biscuits and tea.
The 2013 physics prize has been awarded to a Belgian, Francois Englert, and a Briton, Peter Higgs, who had five decades ago proposed a theoretical mechanism to explain the origin of mass of subatomic particles that make up the universe.
An army of over 6,000 physicists from nearly 50 countries confirmed their theory in 2012, discovering a postulated particle called the Higgs boson in an underground laboratory near Geneva through what has been dubbed the world’s largest science project yet.
The TIFR group is among dozens of Indian scientists across the country and elsewhere who helped elevate the theoretical concept of a Higgs boson into an observed particle created in the debris of protons colliding with protons at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) accelerator at CERN, or the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.
“We were expecting this announcement; the discovery of the Higgs boson has been a giant leap for science,” said Mazumdar, a senior physicist at the TIFR’s high energy physics department. “It completes a picture first drawn nearly 50 years ago.”
“The mass-giving mechanism was an exotic and peculiar idea,” said Vivek Sharma, an India-born physicist at the University of California, San Diego, who coordinated the hunt for the Higgs, leading a team of about 500 scientists analysing data from the LHC. “I’m happy for Englert and Higgs — this is a richly deserved award.”
More than 80 scientists and PhD students from several academic institutions across India were involved in the search for the Higgs boson through the LHC. They helped plan the experiments, built key components of a particle detector called the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) used in the search, tracked the collisions and analysed data.
“It was a huge team effort,” said Manjit Kaur, a senior physicist at Panjab University, another participating institution. Panjab University and TIFR jointly built and fabricated a subcomponent of CMS called the outer hadron calorimeter. Physicists at Delhi University and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, built another subcomponent called the electromagnetic calorimeter.
Kaur was sitting through a seminar by MSc students this afternoon when she received a phone call from a colleague informing her about the 2013 Physics Nobel. After the seminar, Kaur and her students treated themselves to samosas from a campus canteen.
Mazumdar at the TIFR was involved in the CMS experiment from an early stage of its inception and took care of the Indian component of the vast global computational grid network used in the analysis of the experimental data.
A team of six faculty members and nearly 20 students from the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Calcutta, helped analyse some of the data that emerged from nearly 800-trillion proton-proton collisions in the LHC. “We’ve had a strong contribution in data analysis,” said SINP director Milan Sanyal.
Sunanda Banerjee, a senior physicist at the SINP, and his colleagues continue examining collision data. “We’re trying to understand the behaviour of the Higgs boson and how it actually gives mass to other subatomic particles,” Banerjee told The Telegraph.
Sharma, who was born in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, and had studied at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, is back at the University of California, San Diego, teaching quantum mechanics and Einstein’s relativity theory and also remains active in data analysis.
Physicists used the CMS and another detector called ATLAS in the LHC to discover the Higgs boson.
“What we had last year was a rough portrait of the Higgs boson,” Sharma told this newspaper in a telephone interview. “Now we’re filling in details so that a precise picture of the particle emerges.”
The CMS and ATLAS were used to detect signatures of the Higgs boson in the debris of the proton-proton collisions. CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela and ATLAS spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti and other scientists at CERN celebrated today with champagne in Meyrin near Geneva.
The prize announcement today has kindled questions in some physics circles whether the prize should have also been shared with CERN, the laboratory that helped prove the existence of the Higgs boson through the LHC.
“There’ll be some who’ll say the role of the experimenters should have been acknowledged in some way,” said a senior physicist who requested anonymity.
But Sharma said: “There’s a joy in looking at experimental results, at something as fundamental to nature as this, discovering something and knowing you’re among the first in the world to do that. No prize or money can bring such satisfaction.”