December 9, 2013 Sections
The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
VANCOUVER - There was celebrating among a group of Canadian scientists Tuesday as Britain's Peter Higgs and Belgian colleague Francois Englert won the Nobel Prize in physics for helping to explain how matter formed after the Big Bang.
About 150 Canadians were part of an international network whose research helped to discover the so-called "God particle" — a subatomic particle Higgs and Englert theorized was the hinge to how the fundamental building blocks of the universe clumped together, gained mass and formed everything we see around us today.
The two Nobel winners devised their theory working independently in the 1960s, but it wasn't until last year that the world's biggest atom smasher delivered the proof.
"I think all of us were very pleased," said Isabel Trigger a research scientist with the TRIUMF particle and nuclear physics lab based in Vancouver.
"Edison said that invention was one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration and I think in this case there were about 10,000 of us perspiring ... but that has paid off and I think the result has made everyone very happy," Trigger said.
Canadians built several large pieces of a particle detector named ATLAS — the giant machine observing the atom smashing experiment that ultimately revealed what could be the elusive building block. The work evolved from construction, through assembly, installation and calibration.
ATLAS, which operates inside the Large Hadron Collider, run by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, generated millions of gigabytes of data each year, which was then distributed to scientists in about 137 countries for analysis.
TRIUMF processed one-tenth of that data in its super-computing centre — with the help of teams at nine Canadian universities — before the Higgs boson was found.
More than 40 university faculty members, 30 post-doctoral fellows and 70 graduate students were involved.
"We hope that it sends a message to people that Canadians are involved in the biggest, most important, most exciting projects in the world and that although sometimes it sounds a little bit obscure, this is actually the kind of science that helps us understand the universe at the most fundamental level and push us forward," Trigger said.
"This recognition from the Nobel Prize committee, I think helps to shine a spotlight and say that this is relevant, useful science."