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SMU Physicists Contribute to Our Understanding of the Universe

Stars and nebula clouds in deep space.

Physicists at Southern Methodist University (SMU) have developed a new methodology to precisely measure a key subatomic particle, which may help us understand the deepest mysteries of our universe. The building blocks for almost all of the visible matter in the universe is quarks. Top quarks are the most massive of all of the observed elementary particles in the universe. The focus of SMU researchers was developing a more precise measurement of the mass of top quarks. This new calculation methodology of the mass of top quarks will help guide physicists in evaluating competing theories and in formulating new theories about the nature of matter in the universe.

Top quarks rarely occur now, but were much more common after the "Big Bang" 13.8 billion years ago. One of six types of quarks, the top quark is the only one that can be observed. SMU researchers, and their colleagues from around the world, use particle accelerators and detectors to generate top quarks. These particle accelerators and detectors generate extremely large data sets, which require advanced networks like LEARN to access the data on a global scale to better understand the characteristics of the building blocks of the visible matter in the universe. In these studies the top quark can only be observed fleetingly in protons as it explodes and decays into other particles. Physicists are focusing on the top quark to better understand the composition of everyday matter.

The new measurement research was presented in August at the Third Annual Conference on Large Hadron Collider Physics in St. Petersburg, Russia and in September at the 8th International Workshop on Top Quark Physics in Ischia, Italy. The top quark is central to the electroweak force (how particles gain mass) and the strong force (how quarks interact) theories of the Standard Model of physics. The new measurement technique of the mass of the top quarks is pushing the limits of our understanding of these two theories of the Standard Model.

The methodology developed at SMU will be an important tool in understanding how Higgs boson, first observed in 2012, interacts with top quarks and other sub atomic particles. Coupled with the confirmation of the Higgs field, this new research on top quarks may usher in new theories about particles that go beyond the Standard Model.

While having a better understanding of the universe we live in is important, the research and tools that researchers are using in particle physics research are transforming aspects of our daily lives as well. Particle physics research is making significant contributions to important advances in molecular medicine, energy research, advanced manufacturing, data management and analysis, computing, and cancer research and treatment.