Two years after contributing Nobel Prize-winning research, Purdue University Calumet Professor Neeti Parashar has received a $408,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue her exploration of high energy physics.
The 10-year Purdue Calumet physics faculty member and Munster resident was among a world-wide contingent of scientific researchers who in 2012 collaboratively discovered a Standard Mode-like Higgs boson sub atomic particle. The Higgs boson has been considered a vital building block for shaping understanding about the composition and interaction of all matter in the natural universe.
The discovery helped enable scientific theorists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert to gain the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics for a theory they developed about the Higgs field.
Understanding nature at its basic level
“We are trying to understand nature at its most fundamental level,” Parashar said. “Ultimately, we want to determine the fundamental components of matter and how those components interact with one another.”
Continuing, she said, “The discovery of a Standard Mode-like Higgs boson was a monumental step in our understanding of nature. But it also raised many new questions such as: Is what was discovered THE SM Higgs boson, or just a Higgs boson? Is it alone, or one of many Higgs bosons?
“We know of 12 particles that make up all the matter we see around us. But we also know there is additional ‘dark matter’ which so far has eluded discovery, and we hope to find it through our research. We know of four forces by which these matter particles interact with one another, but these forces are not yet completely understood. So we are trying to gain more knowledge and also search for potential new forces.”
Seeking greater Higgs boson understanding
Parashar and colleagues continue to study the Higgs boson, also referred to as the God particle. In fact, she is among more than 3,000 collaborating scientists, engineers and students worldwide who comprise the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Collaboration.
Their research involves examining the high energy collisions of particles in the controlled setting of the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) center in Switzerland.
“Broadly speaking, we are analyzing the byproducts of the high energy collisions created at the Large Hadron Collider to search for signs of new particles and interactions,” Parashar said.
The researchers precisely measure the trajectory of charged particles in the vicinity of the collisions with a pixel detector, which was used in the earlier Higgs boson discovery and built by her group in collaboration with many other U.S. institutions.
Grant provides research support
The NSF grant Parashar recently received will enable her to support a postdoctoral fellow and students to work for three years on the CMS international collaboration.
After a period of inactivity during which the detectors were upgraded, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has restarted and is operating in a more robust manner than it did at the time of the 2012 Higgs boson revelation. A more robust LHC, Parashar believes, provides unparalleled opportunities for more cutting edge discoveries.
“The restart of the LHC at an energy of 13 trillion electron volts offers unprecedented potential for a major breakthrough,” she said. “The groundbreaking Higgs boson discovery was made with LHC operating at a lower energy level. The increase in energy will enable much greater sensitivity in the search for new physics. Another Nobel-worthy discovery could be just around the corner!