As the first beam of protons careened at near-light speed around Europe's $9 billion, 17-mile Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland in the early-morning hours of September 10, so did the hard work and dreams of seven Texas A&M University physicists.

Texas A&M experimental physicists Teruki Kamon, David Toback, Alexei Safonov and Peter McIntyre, along with theoretical physicists Dimitri Nanopoulos, Bhaskar Dutta and Richard Arnowitt, are among the thousands of international scientists whose groundbreaking work went into the world's most powerful accelerator, which scientists believe could help unlock extraordinary discoveries about the nature of the physical Universe.

An estimated 10,000 people from 60 countries helped design and build the accelerator and its massive particle detectors, including more than 1,700 scientists, engineers, students and technicians from 94 U.S. universities and laboratories supported by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The bulk of the Texas A&M group's DOE-funded research supports a 12-member team spearheaded by Kamon, Toback and Safonov that contributed to the design and construction of one of the LHC's two largest particle detectors -- the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), the result of a major collaboration whose U.S. component is headquartered at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Illinois. In the days and years to come, the Texas A&M team will play a key role in collecting and analyzing the data collected at the energy frontier.

"This new machine is a huge next step for the entire field of particle physics," Safonov said. "It's truly a dream machine that may completely change what we think about the world around us and fundamental forces, particles and interactions.

"Many of our faculty are working on high-energy physics phenomenology, string theory and cosmology, performing research that either directly relates to LHC physics or will be strongly influenced by what the LHC sees in the years to come."

McIntyre's expertise also went into critical components for the accelerator. Along with colleagues from Stanford's Linear Accelerator Center, he continues to provide ongoing accelerator research and development vital to the LHC's future.

"The LHC has the potential to take us full circle, to gaze upon nature in microscale as it looked when the matter of the first stars was just emerging from the cosmic furnace of the Big Bang," McIntyre said. "Each step in energy takes us further on that journey; we really don't know what lies ahead, or what it might mean for our understanding of nature. That is the romance of basic science. It also spawns the development of technology that may have benefit for us here on Earth."

As a switch flipped deep in CERN's (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) massive underground laboratory and fired off the chain reaction that breathed life into a scientific marvel more than 15 years in the making, the Texas A&M contingent reveled from afar -- with the exception of Kamon. Unlike his less fortunate colleagues back in College Station, Kamon -- along with Texas A&M post-doctoral researcher Chi Nhan Nguyen and electronics engineer Alexander Golyash, who are permanently stationed at CERN -- was on the scene near Geneva, eagerly witnessing global history first-hand.

At about 10:25 a.m. at CERN (roughly 3:35 a.m. in Texas), Kamon watched as the 21st century's version of the shot heard round the world zoomed through the tunnel. He then dutifully captured the moment as any good scientist would -- by making an entry in his online logbook.

Hours later Kamon's exuberance, not to mention his purpose at hand, was a bit more evident in an electronic missive he sent to the troops waiting back home.

"Just exciting," Kamon noted. "I have observed two historic moments of high-energy frontier -- once at the Tevatron in 1985 and now at the LHC today. I am very happy. Now, we look for dark matter."

The first circulating beam Kamon bore early-morning witness to represents a major accomplishment on the way to the project's ultimate goal: high-energy beams colliding in the centers of the LHC's particle detectors. Beyond revealing a new world of unknown particles -- including heavy ones that otherwise could only be seen in the split seconds following the Big Bang -- LHC experiments could explain why those particles exist and behave as they do, providing valuable clues regarding the origins of mass, dark matter and other age-old mysteries of the Universe in the process.

"This is a great day for science, a great day for physics and a great day for Texas A&M," Toback summarized.

Photos and videos from the LHC First Beam day at CERN are available at http://www.cern.ch/lhc-first-beam.

Information about the U.S. participation in the LHC is available at http://www.uslhc.us.

To learn more about CMS and Texas A&M's participation in the detector and its future endeavors, visit the Texas A&M Collider Physics Web site.

For more information on high-energy physics at Texas A&M, go to http://physics.tamu.edu/research/list-high_energy.html.


Teruki Kamon: 979-571-5950 or kamon@physics.tamu.edu (currently on-site in Switzerland)
David Toback: 979-218-7130 or toback@physics.tamu.edu
Alexei Safonov: 630-650-2078 or safonov@physics.tamu.edu
Peter McIntyre: 979-255-5531 or p-mcintyre@physics.tamu.edu

Shana Hutchins: 979-862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu
Keith Randall: 979-845-4644 or keith-randall@tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Powerful Stuff

    LHC First Beam Day at the CERN Control Center. (All LHC-related images courtesy of CERN.)

  • All Things IT

    The massive LHC computing grid. To help put the collider's monumental computing needs in perspective, the CMS experiment alone expects to write out petabytes (each the equivalent of 1 million Gigabytes) of data per month, requiring world-wide grid access.

  • CMS Illustrated

    Graphical depiction of the CMS detector.

  • Particles in Focus

    Simulation of a detection of the Higgs boson in the CMS equipment.

  • Texas A&M at CERN

    (L-R): Texas A&M's Alexei Safonov, Fermilab's Slawek Tkaczyk, Sheridan Lorenz (daughter of George Mitchell, a 1940 Texas A&M petroleum engineering graduate and philanthropist whose financial support of the Texas A&M Department of Physics exceeds $50 million), and Texas A&M Physics Department Head Edward Fry pause during a recent tour of CERN for a photograph in front of the CMS detector. (Photograph courtesy of Peter McIntyre.)

  • Men at Work

    Texas A&M physicists (clockwise from center) David Toback, Teruki Kamon, Bhaskar Dutta and Alexei Safonov discuss dark matter and other universal mysteries the LHC is expected to help elucidate in Toback's office on the Texas A&M campus. (Photograph courtesy of David Toback.)

  • Teruki Kamon

  • David Toback

  • Alexei Safonov

  • Peter McIntyre

  • Dimitri Nanopoulos

  • Bhaskar Dutta

  • Richard Arnowitt

  • Chi Nhan Nguyen

  • Alexander Golyash

© Texas A&M University. To request use of any of our photographs for educational use or to view additional options from our archive, please contact the College of Science Communications Office.

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