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The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » December 21, 2012
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StrategicLook at Particle Physics
December 21, 2012   
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Some 500 particle physicists from across Europe met in the southern Polish city of Cracow Sept. 9-13 to debate the future of their field at a conference called the CERN Council Open Symposium on the European Strategy for Particle Physics.

CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and the Cracow conference attracted a crowd of scientists, including those from CERN and the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, commonly abbreviated DESY, a national research center in Germany that operates particle accelerators used to investigate the structure of matter. The conference was organized by the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Nuclear Physics in Cracow and the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow. The event was held under the auspices of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

The conference came at a turning point for the field, following hot on the heels of the announcement in July of the discovery of a new particle consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson: a discovery that sets the direction for future particle physics research.

Although the Higgs boson has dominated headlines, other areas, such as neutrino physics, have also seen important advances over recent years, conference participants said.

Topics under discussion at Cracow ranged from potential facilities to succeed the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is scheduled to run well beyond 2020, to the complementarity between accelerator-based research and cosmic ray studies, and future facilities for neutrino science.

The primary objective of high-energy hadron physics is to understand the properties of hadrons in a situation where the collision energy is of the order of the energies observed in the Large Hadron Collider.

“Hadrons account for about 95 percent of the observed mass of the universe, so understanding their properties is necessary to properly interpret the results of collisions,” says Krzysztof Kutak, Ph.D., who is carrying out a large project together with a research team at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences under a grant offered as part of the National Center for Research and Development’s Lider (Leader) program. The project aims to spread awareness of the properties of hadrons in the LHC.

Hadrons are made up of quarks and gluons, which are collectively referred to as partons. The theory which describes the interactions of hadrons is called quantum chromodynamics, Kutak says.

The project led by Kutak is one of many important particle physics projects in which Polish researchers have been involved. At the conference in Cracow, researchers debated what kind of accelerator experiments—with the participation of both Poles and researchers from other countries—should be carried out in the coming years and what other results can be achieved using the currently available accelerators.

The conference summed up the achievements of European particle physicists to date, including their studies of the proton, and charted out what still needs to be achieved in this area. Still unknown, for example, is the answer to the question: what determines the spin of the proton, because the spins of the quarks and gluons forming the proton do not add up to the exact value of the proton spin. Also unexplored is the structure of the proton at high energies—researchers are familiar with parton distributions in the proton only at relatively low energies.

“The energy available in the LHC and the present experimental techniques create unprecedented opportunities for detailed studies of the parton structure of the proton, as well as new discoveries beyond the Standard Model of particle physics,” says Kutak.

His research work as part of the project “Parton distributions and hard matrix elements—formulation and application” involves the development of theoretical methods and computer programs to describe data collected in the LHC experiment.

Kutak says he intends to create software based on the so-called Monte Carlo simulations to help describe proton-proton and proton-lead collision processes in the LHC.

Helped by two other researchers, Kutak has developed a tool for physicists to mathematically describe the probability of processes. “In our approach, the particles which initiate a collision carry a certain transverse momentum,” Kutak says. “Previously such a tool did not exist; it takes into account the transverse momentum and is at the same time fully automatic. The properties of the particles produced as a result of collision in the accelerator, for example hadrons, are measured in a detector. To know what to expect, you need to perform a Monte Carlo simulation of the process earlier. Our software will serve such a simulation.”

Kutak’s other achievements include a new non-linear equation and algorithms proposed jointly with three other researchers to be used in solving nonlinear equations. They will also be used outside of physics, for example in biology to model “hunter-prey” kind of processes. This can be illustrated by picturing a population of wolves and hares. Although the number of hares increases, the wolves cannot eat all the hares because in the end they could be left without food. In finance, similar equations model the relationship between two companies that must strike a balance between cooperation and competition. In physical equations the researchers have to deal with the processes of creation and annihilation of particles.

Poland has a strong position in particle physics and Polish researchers are invited to many conferences abroad. Especially active are Polish particle physicists in Cracow, Warsaw, Kielce, Poland, Katowice and Wroc³aw.
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