University College London
Particle Physics is the study of the fundamental building blocks of the Universe and how they interact. The Standard Model (SM), our current best understanding of the Universe, is an extremely successful theory that predicts these interactions to a very high precision. Despite this success there are several fundamental questions that remain unanswered.
The most pressing of these is how particles acquire mass. The most popular theory is known as the Higgs mechanism. This predicts that particles acquire mass by interacting with the Higgs field, similar to how charged particles interact with a magnetic field, and that a new particle the Higgs boson exists.
The two decade long search for such a particle was recently successfully concluded with the discovery of a Higgs boson like particle at the LHC. So far only the more distinct and rarer Higgs decays have been observed and they all agree with the SM predictions. However, to really probe the mechanism by which particles acquire mass and to really understand if the particle is the SM Higgs boson, we need to search for its decay to b-quarks. This is predicted to happen more often than all other decays combined, but is much more difficult to detect as it looks very similar to many of the collisions where no Higgs is produced. If this decay happens more or less often than expected then it may help to answer several fundamental questions about, and revolutionise our understanding of, the Universe.
There are numerous economical, educational and cultural benefits from such fundamental research:
- Hundreds of technically able students are trained every year, half of whom transfer their expertise outside of research. Helping to address the 'skills-gap' in data science.
- The development of revolutionary spinoff technologies, such as the World Wide Web.
- The potential for ground breaking discoveries that can transform our society.
- Such discoveries can foster a wider engagement in science and have a positive cultural impact.
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