Science & Technology: Pitt PACC Researchers Play Role in Higgs Boson Search

Issue Date: 
January 23, 2012
Tao HanTao Han

Researchers around the world, including those at the University of Pittsburgh, have long been playing a game of hide and seek with the existence of the Higgs boson—a never-before-seen particle that is thought by many to be the “fundamental building block of the universe.” Researchers at the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland, reported in December that they may have seen hints of the Higgs boson.

Tao Han, a Pitt professor of physics and astronomy in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, began his work at Pitt in Fall 2011, bringing with him a center that is focused on the study of the Higgs boson, among other phenomena within physics. The Pittsburgh Particle Physics, Astrophysics, and Cosmology Center (Pitt PACC) comprises researchers from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University who are exploring one fundamental idea: how nature works—from different aspects of cosmology.

“Most of what we’re searching for, especially in relation to the Higgs, has no real-life application yet. But eventually, when it’s found, it will have the potential to explain many of the universe’s mysteries,” said Han, director of Pitt PACC.

Other professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy are involved with ATLAS, a particle detector that is part of the Large Hadron Collider and is used to recreate conditions just after the Big Bang. This device helps researchers better understand the interactions between elementary particles at the world’s highest energies, which were prevalent for a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. Joseph Boudreau, James Mueller, and Vladimir Savinov, all professors in Pitt’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, contributed to the construction of the experiment’s instrumentation and software; some of the images distributed through national media in December were the product of scientific visualization programs originating in the Pittsburgh group, which is active in the search for exotic phenomena and the determination of heavy quark properties.

“The range where the Higgs is hiding has now been narrowed,” said Boudreau. I predict a conclusive discovery could come in summer [2012].”

In addition to pursuing research, Pitt PACC organizes a series of joint seminars and workshops on “hot topics” within physics. It also hosts an annual lectureship as well as short-term and long-term visiting researchers. The center provides support for postdoctoral positions, and it involves graduate students in its projects.

For more information on Pitt PACC, visit