PUC professor lauded for role in discovery of Higgs boson particle
BY CHRISTIN NANCE LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org October 8, 2013 6:32PM
Dr. Neeti Parashar listens as Chancellor Thomas Keon delivers a message via Skype at Purdue Calumet on Tuesday October 8, 2013. | Jim Karczewski\For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 10, 2013 6:37AM
HAMMOND — Early Tuesday morning, Purdue University Calumet physics professor Neeti Parashar couldn’t sleep.
The Nobel Prize in physics was about to be announced in Stockholm, and a discovery that Parashar and thousands of other scientists had worked on was shortlisted. But shortly before 6 a.m. Central time, the committee announced that English physicist Peter Higgs and Belgian physicist Francois Englert would share the award for theorizing the existence of the Higgs boson subatomic particle in 1964.
It wasn’t until July 2012 that tests revealed the existence of the “God particle” at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland.
“It was exhilarating,” Parashar said. “I was acting like a little child. I called my dad because he’s the reason I became a physicist. I never thought that I would be part of something at this elite level of scientific endeavor.”
Parashar’s excitement was compounded by Tuesday being her father’s 70th birthday. Her father is a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Delhi, and he helped inspire Parashar and her brother and sister to become physicists as well.
Parashar and several PUC students are part of an international group of researchers who collaborated in the search for the Higgs boson. More than 2,000 physicists in the United States and 6,000 researchers worldwide contributed to the discovery.
Parashar has led PUC’s high-energy physics program since 2005, working with both undergraduate and graduate students on projects at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., and CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. Students have contributed to the construction of the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at the Large Hadron Collider, developed software programs to run subsystems and analyzed data from collisions.
Parashar said the Higgs boson is a crucial component in the Standard Model theory of particle physics.
“The theory predicts that the Higgs boson is responsible for the origin of mass,” Parashar said. “The Higgs boson is an excitation of the Higgs field — energy that permeates the entire universe and gives particles their mass. If the Higgs didn’t exist, we would not exist. It answers questions of how the universe was created.”
Several current and former PUC students were on hand to celebrate Parashar and talk about the project.
Postdoctoral student John Stupak said the fact that one type of Higgs boson has been found doesn’t mean research in the field is over.
“Much work still remains in terms of investigating the properties of the Higgs boson to search for deviations, and to see if there are multiple Higgs bosons involved,” Stupak said.
PUC graduate Dayna Thompson, who is the assistant director of the Ball State University Planetarium, said Parashar offered her a research position after taking her on a tour of Fermilab.
“As a result, I got way into particle physics,” Thompson said. “I tested components for the forward pixel detector. We would freeze then thaw them to test what temperature extremes they could handle. It’s an experience I will never forget.”
Parashar said it will likely take decades to find practical applications of the Higgs boson discovery, noting that MRI technology and the World Wide Web were offshoots of scientific research in the field of particle physics.
“... When it does, it is revolutionary and changes the face of the world,” Parashar said. “Crowning achievements such as this take our technologically driven lives to an unprecedented level.”