• Oct 08 2013

    Press Release - 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics

    The 2013 Noble Prize for Physics has been awarded to Francois Englert and Peter Higgs, "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’sLarge Hadron Collider”.This is a great triumph also for the field of Particle Physics. The prediction and the accompanying discovery exemplify very beautifully the scientific method and indeed both are based on almost the entire history of theoretical and experimental physics, from humble beginnings, up to the most advanced levels. The Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism together with the Higgs Boson are the final component of the very successful Standard Model, which describes all currently known forms of matter and the various forces between the matter particles, except for gravity. Notably, there are at least three recent contact points of the BEH mechanism development with prior related developments in solid state physics.
    Tantalizingly, we know for certain that the Standard Model is incomplete, and there has to be physics beyond

    the Standard Model. The Higgs Boson discovered at CERN may turn out to be part of a theory beyond the Standard Model. Firstly, the Standard Model doesn't include a quantum theory of gravity. Furthermore, the normal matter and energy we can currently describe is only about 5% of the energy and matter content of the Universe. Astronomical observations indicate that the universe is composed vastly more of matter and energy about which we know almost nothing, and which we currently call dark matter and dark energy. There are many other open questions of great significance, and, most scientists believe the discoveries at the Large Hadron Collider have just started.

    This is currently therefore a very exciting opportunity for South Africa, as we are very involved in the discoveries taking place at CERN. The participation is funded by the broader SA-CERN Programme of the National Research Foundation and Department of Science and Technology, which involves many South African Universities and also the iThemba accelerator laboratories. South Africa’s contribution at CERN has included development of accelerator and detector components, software development, operation of the experiments, provision of computer resources for analysis, and the participation in the development of searches for various physics results. Our scientists make regular short term visits to CERN, and in some cases, where there is additional funding sources, we support longer full time stays at CERN. The South African participation within the ATLAS experiment (where a Higgs Boson was discovered last year) now includes more than 30 university staff, post docs and post graduate students.

    There is a strong link between particle physics and astronomy. This is because all astrophysical and cosmological theories are based ultimately on the particle content and interactions as described within the Standard Model, or a theory Beyond the Standard Model. We have already mentioned the open questions posed by gravity, dark matter and dark energy, which all require physics beyond the Standard Model. There then, is the overlap with astronomy. The SKA is a premier dark matter mapping instrument, and this compliments dark matter particle candidates searched for in the ATLAS experiment. In the context of multi-messenger astronomy, and astroparticle physics, there is strong South African participation in other instruments. Some of these are in Southern Africa, some in space, some elsewhere in the world. One of the future instruments, the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA), may in fact come to Southern Africa, much as the SKA did. One can therefore expect continuing South African participation in new discoveries related to the Standard Model and beyond, from both the fields of Particle Physics and Astronomy.

    The SA-CERN programmehas been involved in technology transfer from CERN. The first activity has been the development of the SA computing grid, and the development of several local laboratories for novel detectors, high throughput electronicsand accelerator component R&D.
    There is a project to develop thepatented Mineral-PET technique which uses detector technology to “see” diamond within kimberliterock (in a collaboration with Multotec).Another project studies the use of the GEANT4 Monte Carlo code to model the neutronics of a nuclear reactor.

    The award of this Nobel Prize recognizes important developments in Particle Physics, and the impact is ultimately expected to be very dramatic. This will be for the development of further theories, additional discoveries, and a host of technological advances.
    *Press Contact*
    *Prof Simon Connell*
    *University of Johannesburg*
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    Phone (UJ) : +27 11 559-4380