Physicists Join Massive Collider in Search for Truths

With a UT Dallas Team's Help, the Largest Machine on the Planet
is Ready to Start Coaxing the Universe to Give Up its Deepest Secrets

Sept. 11, 2008

The device that may answer how the universe came to be is the largest and one of the most expensive devices ever created.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) sits beneath the surface of the earth along the Franco-Swiss border outside Geneva.  The arms of the world’s largest particle accelerator form a 17-mile tunnel beneath the earth.  Within this tunnel, protons are accelerated to almost the speed of light before being slammed against an opposing stream of protons in a head-on crash of cosmic proportions. 

Atlas detectors
The LHC’s massive ATLAS detectors are some 300 feet underground. The platform between the superconducting toroid on the left and the “Big Wheel” trigger scintillators at the right was used during construction. (Photo by J.M. Izen)

The goal? To answer such fundamental physics questions as, What is the origin of mass?  What is dark matter?  And, what happens to matter when it’s heated to 100,000 times the temperature at the center of the sun?

Slamming particles together at nearly the speed of light is a daunting proposition that offers tantalizing possibilities.  The “Standard Model” of physics predicts existence of a special particle called the Higgs boson that were last plentiful during the first billionths of a second after the “Big Bang” at the very beginning of time in our universe. Scientists at CERN expect to mimic these conditions at LHC collision points.

“The kinds of collisions we’re artificially creating were once common throughout our universe, long before there were people, planets, stars or even galaxies,” said Dr. Joe Izen, the University of Texas at Dallas’ principal investigator on the project. 

Izen, a physics professor, joins more than 1,700 scientists, engineers and others from 94 universities and laboratories from the United States.  All told, more than 10,000 people from 60 countries have helped build the LHC and associated experiments within the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) complex.

Wednesday marked an important milestone as scientists circulated beams through the entire LHC circumference for the very first time.

“We are very pleased that the UT Dallas team led by Joe Izen was recently voted in as a full member of the ATLAS collaboration,” said Mike Tuts, U.S. ATLAS program manager.  “This reflects the hard work put in by the UT Dallas group in helping to commission the pixel detector; working as part of the ATLAS pixel team they were able to have this complex 100-million electronic channel detector ready to see the first interactions when the LHC beams start up.”

UT Dallas at the LHC 

“The ATLAS pixel detector we’re working on surrounds the beam pipe in which the collisions happen,” Izen said.  “This is the innermost of three tracking systems in ATLAS, and the first detector that particles ‘see’ as they emerge from a collision.  Our local colleagues at Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Arlington work on “calorimeters” that form ATLAS’ middle layers and which measure the energy of particles.”

ATLAS experimenters are currently focused on commissioning the detector and its software.  During the next year, there will be a shift to operational mode, allowing scientists more time to extract nature’s secrets from the collisions.

“Everyone on the experiment has access to all the data,” Izen said.  “We tend to form analysis groups that focus on topics like the Higgs, super symmetry, top quarks, bottom quarks, the behavior of the strong force and searches for exotics like micro-black holes and magnetic monopoles.

“Providing access to the petabytes of data (roughly a thousand terabytes, or 100,000 dual-layer DVDs) spun out by ATLAS annually and harnessing the power of thousands of computers at universities and labs throughout the world is no easy task. The LHC experimenters work at the cutting edge of distributed grid computing technologies, conducting worldwide computing from the same laboratory that developed the World Wide Web.”

Over the next 15 years, beams fired within the LHC will travel in an ultra-high vacuum, racing protons along at 99.99 percent the speed of light.  These subatomic particles, hurtling against each other in opposing beams, will annihilate themselves within the largest refrigerator on earth, at temperatures colder than space. 

The science may originate in man’s most expensive subterranean cave, but the light it could shed on the field of physics may, in fact, prove heavenly.

Media Contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155,
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155,

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Dr. Joe Izen of UT Dallas peers above the ATLAS Pixel Opto-Heater electronics which is the responsibility of the UT Dallas group. The far ends of the gray cables lie deep within the ATLAS detector. (Photo by E. Galyaev)


UT Dallas team members (from left) Dr. Joe Izen, Dr. Mahsana Ahsan, Dr. Eugene Galyaev, Ph.D. student, Masayuki Kondo) take a break from their work at CERN with a hike in the Swiss Alps. (Photo by J.M. Izen)

UT Dallas Team at the LHC
Joseph Izen, principal investigator, professor
Xinchou Lou, co-principal investigator, professor
Eugene Galyaev, research scientist

Mahsana Ahsan, research scientist
Wei-Cheng Wong, Ph.D. student
Masayuki Kondo, Ph.D. student


ATLAS collaborators from Texas
UT Dallas
UT Arlington
Southern Methodist University

Other participating Texas universities
Rice University
Texas A&M University
Texas Tech University
University of Houston
University of Texas, Austin


More Online

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

The United States at CERN

Guide to the LHC and the science under way at CERN

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April 23, 2014