New Zealand's contribution towards hunting down the fabled Higgs boson should not be underestimated, a visiting Cern physicist says.
European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) senior physicist Professor Emmanuel Tsesmelis, a visitor in the department of physics and astronomy at Canterbury University, said Kiwi innovation was playing a major role in the search.
Tsesmelis runs the director-general's office at Cern and is in charge of international relations with Oceania and Southeast Asia.
Cern operates the Large Hadron Collider at its laboratory lying across the French-Swiss border near Geneva.
Scientists working on the collider - which recreates conditions just after the Big Bang - have been searching for the Higgs boson, a proposed particle which gives other particles their mass.
Early last month they found a particle "consistent" with a Higgs boson.
Tsesmelis said Cern had 20 member states, but other countries, including New Zealand, were running experiments on the collider.
"Historically we have always had participation in individual projects open to everybody, and New Zealand is one of those. Canterbury and Auckland [universities] are collaborating members of the CMS (compact muon solenoid) experiment."
That project measured the energy and momentum of photons, electrons, muons, and other products of the particle collisions.
"Certainly it is a small department at Canterbury in terms of particle physics but they have managed to find resources through grants to actually build detectors which are very important elements of the experiment.
"The detectors give information on incoming proton beams. You want them to be small so they collide at the centre of the experiment. The detectors measure that before they reach collision point, which aids the accelerator control group to focus beams down to very small dimensions.
"It is a very substantial part of the experiment to get it right. That is the contribution from New Zealand."
Science was only one part of the work going on at Cern.
As well as carrying out fundamental science, the centre was developing new technologies with engineers and industry, training young scientists and collaborating internationally.
"We certainly welcome New Zealand efforts so far and look forward to a long and strong collaboration in the future. The first contact in the New Zealand group was just under a decade ago and it has gone very fast.
"One of the founding fathers [of nuclear research] is [New Zealander Ernest] Rutherford, so really it goes well back to those days, this whole effort. It all started from that."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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