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Physics Hosts Lecture on Higgs-Boson Discovery

Story and photo by Dan Steinberg, communication instructor

Given their importance to our understanding of how the universe operates, particle physicists don’t receive the recognition they deserve, according to a lot of people. Then again, there aren’t a lot of people who can understand particle physicists.

Otterbein’s physics department, foreshadowing Tuesday’s announcement that the Higgs boson discovery has earned Nobel Prize status, hosted Notre Dame University physics professor Mitch Wayne last week to discuss the Higgs, which Wayne called “arguably the most significant scientific discovery in several decades.”

Students and faculty from a variety of Otterbein science disciplines enjoyed the timely teachable moment in particle physics. Thousands of researchers working for the past 20 years helped discover the Higgs boson, so fundamental to our existence that it has been dubbed by some the "God Particle."

“As it relates to the Standard Model of physics this discovery is as big as it gets,” Wayne said.

Otterbein’s physics department itself has expertise in subatomic particles. Professor and department chair David Robertson, himself a particle physicist, studied under famed theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilzcek.

“The discovery of the Higgs particle, whose existence was proposed in the 1960s, is a real triumph of theoretical insight,” said Robertson. “It’s also a tremendous experimental achievement. These experiments are incredibly complex.”

In addition, physics and astronomy assistant professor Nathaniel Tagg recently earned a $113,000 National Science Foundation grant that will support undergraduate student researchers working on particle physics experiments involving neutrinos at the famed Fermilab near Chicago, the largest, most prominent American lab dedicated to high-energy physics.

Wayne also discussed graduate work at Notre Dame with Otterbein physics majors.

“The value of institutions like Otterbein, which focus on teaching and training undergraduate students, is immeasurable in our field,” Wayne said. “Many of our graduate students at Notre Dame come from just such universities and we appreciate the education they receive at these institutions.”