Scheme: Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Dates: Oct 2010-Sep 2016
Summary: Each proton or neutron in the nucleus of an atom is made of tiny particles called quarks. These quarks are thought to be some of the fundamental building blocks of matter, and are known as "elementary particles". Protons and neutrons contain two types of quark, but a total of six types are believed to have been present in the early universe, when all matter was compressed into a minute region of space at immense temperatures. Now these particles can only be created on Earth in exceptional conditions, such as energetic collisions in particle accelerators.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a powerful particle accelerator close to Geneva in Switzerland. Two beams of protons travel around a 27km ring, before colliding with one another at four locations. The ATLAS experiment is one of two general-purpose particle detectors at the LHC. It is designed to analyse all types of particles produced by the collisions.
In order to search for new and exciting particles, it is vital to understand fully the properties of all known fundamental particles. The heaviest and least well understood of these is the top quark, with a mass 175 times larger than that of the proton. I am measuring the properties of top quarks and lighter quarks recorded in the ATLAS detector, particularly the frequency with which they are produced. Precise measurements of these quantities are a critical ingredient in the search for new particles at the LHC, such as the recently discovered Higgs boson and further particles predicted by numerous theoretical models.
The tremendous size and complexity of the LHC machine and particle detectors have led to advances in technology which will benefit medicine, energy research, computing and security applications. My project is allowing me to contribute to unique measurements of the heaviest quarks and to look for phenomena which have not taken place since the Big Bang.