Poland celebrates 30 years at CERN. AGH scientists help to understand the Big Bang

The photo shows a group of scientists sitting at computers. There are six men and one woman in the foreground. Various types of graphs are displayed on computer screens. In the background, on the wall, large-format (five in a row) slides with various analyses are displayed.

Every year as part of summer apprenticeships AGH students are involved in CERN works, photo from AGH achieves

The photo shows the ATLAS detector - a huge structure dominated by metal pipes. In the central part there is a metal circle where eight main pipes are centred in. At the bottom of the structure, one can see a man wearing a helmet. There are storey stairs around the metal pipe structures.

ATLAS detector, source: cds.cern.ch

30 years ago Poland joined the research conducted in the largest centre of particle physics in the world. AGH scientists started their collaboration with CERN over 20 years ago. Since then, the AGH research staff has been working at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, among others, to understand the basic components of matter and to recreate of the state of the early universe.

At present, the main research tool is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest proton accelerator that a man has built so far. The LHC allows to convert energy into matter and conduct thorough research on its properties. The conditions during the collision of protons in the LHC can be compared to those just after the Big Bang. In this sense the scientists claim that the LHC recreates the state of the early universe.

The current CERN research concentrates on carrying out precise tests of the Standard Model and pursuit of New Physics phenomenon. The CERN researchers hope that it will allow to understand the nature of dark matter and dark energy which constitute the main part of the universe surrounding us. The main research works encompass four major experiment collaborations: ATLAS - A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS, CMS - Compact Muon Solenoid,  LHCb - Large Hadron Collider beauty, and ALICE - A Large Ion Collider Experiment.

The CERN greatest achievements hitherto are, among others, the global web network, the design and construction of the Large Hadron Collider, which is the world’s largest research tool, or the discovery of the Higgs boson responsible for giving mass to elementary particles.

It is more than 20 years since the AGH scientists participate in CERN research projects. Currently, one of the research group that consists of nine researchers from the Faculty of Physics and Applied Computer Science and five PhD candidates is working at the ATLAS experiment. The research group focuses on physics analyses, such as, the decay of the Higgs boson, diffraction processes or measurements of heavy ions collisions. The group’s greatest achievements are the measurements related to the first observation of the rare phenomenon of photon-photon scattering or the Higgs boson decay to leptons and a photon.

The second group involved in the CERN works is the group of researchers that centres its interest in the LHCb experiment. The members of the LHCb-AGH group carry out physics analyses that significantly contribute to the delivery of experiment software and hardware. The leader of the team Tomasz Szumlak, DSc, Professor of AGH University of Science and Technology, explains:

Our research works aim at finding the answer to the fundamental question of the universe surrounding us. Why do we exist anyway – as a result of the Big Bang equal amounts of matter as antimatter were created, ergo, we should have in the universe only annihilation photons but a microscopic part of matter remained – and life was created; why particles have got mass and what is the nature of the Higgs boson, what is dark matter and dark energy and are there any new particles and new interactions. A social aspect of our research and its application is also crucial. For many years, CERN has been running programmes promoting fundamental research and it has been making attempts to attract students and young researchers from the countries all over the world. The employment of the detection technologies used at CERN, .e.g.,  for medical imaging or photon therapy is equally important.

What is more, for the first time in the LHC experiment collaboration the Polish group has been fully responsible for developing a complex reading system. The AGH researchers prepared a specialist platform for the analysis of data coming from the silicon detectors with intelligent components that allow the system to take autonomic decisions on the data quality. As the researchers underline it is crucial as intelligent systems can identify faster than humans the problems of research equipment, which becomes more complex and exposed to increasingly difficult conditions of operating in extreme radiation fields.

The research conducted at CERN requires also cutting-edge IT systems. CERN and AGH collaboration in developing such systems started off with summer apprenticeships of computer science students in 2009. In 2013 the Department of Computer Science (now the Institute of Computer Science) became an official member of the TOTEM experiment (one of seven detectors at the CERN Large Hardon Collider), and from 2018 – also a member of the CMS experiment, another detector. The AGH group primarily deals with developing and assuring quality of the software designed for data reconstruction and simulation of detectors’ responses. Additionally, the IT works are related to application of parallel processing for the analysis of large data collections, with the use of modern cluster and cloud computing environments.

Every year as part of CERN summer apprenticeships students are involved in said works. The topics of the research projects become frequently the topics of BSc theses or M.A. theses. The effects of their work are highly assessed by physicists cooperating with CERN and constitute a contribution to joint results. One of the results is the recently announced discovery of odderon – quasiparticle, the existence of which was predicted almost 50 years ago.