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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

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2013 Nobel Prize — Made in America?

You’re looking at the title and thinking, “Now that’s not true! Francois Englert is Belgian, and Peter Higgs is from the UK. And CERN, where the Higgs discovery was made, is a European lab, not in the US.”

That is all true, but on behalf of the US LHC blog, let’s take a few minutes to review the role of the United States in the Higgs observation that made this prize possible. To be sure, the US was part of an international effort on this, with essential contributions from thousands of people at hundreds of institutes from all over the world, and the Nobel Prize is a validation of the great work of all of them. (Not to mention the work of Higgs, Englert and many other contributing theorists!) But at the same time, I do want to combat the notion that this was somehow a non-US discovery (as some have implied). For many more details, see this link.

US collaborators, about 2000 strong, are a major contingent within both of the biggest LHC experiments, ATLAS and CMS. I’m a member of CMS, where people from US institutions are about one third of the membership of the collaboration. This makes the US physicists the largest single national contingent on the experiment — by no means a majority, but because of our size we have a critical role to play in the construction and operation of the experiment, and the data analysis that follows. American physicists are represented throughout the management structure (including Joe Incandela, the current CMS spokesperson) and deep in the trenches.

While the detectors were painstakingly assembled at CERN, many of the parts were designed, prototyped and fabricated in the US. On CMS, for instance, there has been US involvement in every major piece of the instrument: charged particle tracking, energy measurements, muon detection, and the big solenoid magnet that gives the experiment its name. Along with the construction responsibilities come maintenance and operational responsibilities too; we expect to carry these for the lifetime of the experiment.

The data that these amazing instruments record must then be processed, stored, and analyzed. This requires powerful computers, and the expertise to operate them efficiently. The US is a strong contributor here too. On CMS, about 40% of the data processing is handled at facilities in the US. And then there is the last step in the chain, the data analysis itself that leads to the measurements that allow us to claim a discovery. This is harder to quantify, but I can’t think of a single piece of the Higgs search analysis that didn’t have some US involvement.

Again, this is not to say that the US is the only player here — just to point out that thanks to the long history that the United States has in supporting this science, the US too can share some of the glory of today’s announcement.

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6 Responses to “2013 Nobel Prize — Made in America?”

  1. Hamish says:

    Don’t forget that Robert Brout, who would have shared the prize had he not died in 2011, was American!

  2. Thomas says:

    With all due respect, this is not the time to wave ANY flag..

    • Ken Bloom says:

      It’s a fair comment, thanks. But the blog is sponsored by US LHC, I feel some responsibility to make sure that people in the US understand how much their support of this science helped make this discovery, and this Nobel Prize, possible.

  3. Peter M says:

    I don’t see it as a flag waving issue at all.
    The LHC is a colossal human endeavour and any details highlighting the contributions of any country is welcomed.

  4. Non-American says:

    Deny it all you like but it IS flag-waving. Just look at this site – why must it be limited to American scientists? Americans are the only ones so taken up by their national identity.

    • Ken Bloom says:

      The Quantum Diaries site has plenty of non-US people writing for it, including for instance CERN scientists. The bloggers designated as US LHC are all from US institutions, though.

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