Tag Archives: particle physics

Perseverance, Brilliance and Charm: An Interview With Mary Gaillard

This article is part of STEMinism in the Spotlight, a monthly interview series. Mary K. Gaillard is an extraordinarily accomplished physicist. In 1981, she became UC Berkeley’s first tenured female physicist. She is currently a UC Berkeley Physics Department professor emeritus and professor of the graduate school. She received her BA in physics from Hollins

What the Higg?

Courtesy CERNI’m sure everyone by now has heard some reference to the July 4th, 2012, announcement by CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland) that they probably found the Higgs Boson – or at least a particle that behaves in a way they would expect the Higgs boson to behave.  Two teams, ATLAS and CMS, independently observed the probable evidence of the Higgs boson; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory participated in the ATLAS experiment.

But what does this mean?  Why is the discovery of this elusive particle important to me? And why do particles of light (photons) have no mass, while particles of matter (such as electrons and quarks) do?

Piecing together the past at IceCube

I’d like all of you to try something before reading this article: go outside (or, if you live in the Bay Area, you may have to settle for your fridge), and take a look a a piece of ice. Doesn’t seem to be much going on there, huh? Well, what if I told you that you could measure energy that originated from the creation of the universe using that piece of ice? Setting aside my possible insanity as an answer, you’d probably want a good explanation. Well, without further ado, allow me to explain…

How to see the history of the universe with a piece of ice:

Step 1: raise $271 million in venture capital.
Step 2: build a giant lepton detector in the south pole.
Step 3: record the energy released by sub-atomic collisions originating from the creation of the universe

See how easy that was?

Even if you’re unable to carry out this little experiment by yourself, it turns out you’re in luck because someone else is already trying it. I’m referring to the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, located in Antarctica.  It’s run by researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and aims to tell us something about the distant (and I mean distant) past by measuring the energy emitted in ice deep within the south pole.

BSR Issue 20: One week left to vote for the Reader’s Choice Award

It’s a tight race to the finish in the BSR Spring 2011 Reader’s Choice Award! Voting ends next Friday, June 17, so hurry up and cast your vote here to help your favorite article rise to the top spot.

If you haven’t gotten around to reading the current issue yet (it’s available online here or in print at multiple campus locations), consider getting started with the excerpt posted below, from “What’s the Antimatter” by Denia Djokic (p. 8).  This week, the stunning experimental results featured in Denia’s article were published in the journal Nature Physics.  Remember, you heard it here first!



For many, the word “antimatter” elicits images of the Starship Enterprise ripping through space faster than the speed of light, or canisters of tiny glowing balls threatening to obliterate Vatican City. Scientific inaccuracies in popular culture aside, the prospect of isolating antimatter, which annihilates in a burst of light upon contact with matter, has eluded physicists for decades. And yet, this is just what a group of scientists working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, recently succeeded in doing. Several months ago, the international ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus) collaboration, which includes many researchers from UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, managed to create and, more importantly, capture 38 antihydrogen atoms for about one sixth of a second—an eternity in the world of subatomic particles. This exciting breakthrough will allow physicists to study matter’s counterpart in detail and will ultimately deepen, and possibly fundamentally change, our understanding of the origins of the universe. The first question at hand: why is our universe made almost entirely of matter and not antimatter?