Mumbai: While physicists across the world are still celebrating the recent detection of the Higgs particle, also known as ‘The God Particle’ by the CERN scientists, here’s exciting news for India too. India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) near Madurai in Tamil Nadu plans to release a sequel to the Higgs boson.
“The discovery has given us a lot of confidence. It shows that we are going in the right direction,” said Naba K Mondal, senior professor and spokesperson for the Neutrino Observatory (INO). The INO, to be commissioned by 2017, will enable scientists to go beyond the Standard Model, validated by the Higgs discovery.
The Standard Model, created in the early sixties, is a theory to explain the nature and behaviour of the fundamental particles that make up protons, neutrons and electrons, which in turn make up everything we see around us. While it deals with the particles themselves (six quarks and six leptons) as well as the forces (four in all) that act on them, an assumption had to be made that all these fundamental particles are without mass in order to make this theory work. However, this was just not true, because observation showed that quarks did have mass.
Peter Higgs postulated that all particles are without mass until they interact with something called the Higgs Field (The Higgs Field is a possibly discovered, ubiquitous quantum field supposedly responsible for giving elementary particles their masses).
The so-called Higgs Boson is a particle of the Higgs Field. The discovery of a particle that closely resembles the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) shows that the Higgs Field indeed exists, and that our understanding of the origins of the universe are at least partly accurate.
But there are other experiments and observations that expose holes in the Standard Model, for instance, dark matter, which constitutes the majority of our universe, is made up of entirely different particles. According to the Standard Model, one variety of leptons, named neutrinos, are supposed to be massless (even after interaction with the Higgs Field). However, previous experiments have suggested that neutrinos have very small masses.
Therefore, the INO near Madurai will seek to find out how neutrinos get this mass. “It will take physics beyond the Standard Model. Other fundamental particles such as quarks have been studied to a far greater degree than neutrinos, which are small and hardly interact with any other particle,” said Mondal.
Most of the neutrinos on Earth come from the Sun. They are also produced when cosmic rays from space interact with the earth’s atmosphere. Such atmospheric neutrinos were first detected by a team of physicists from India, Japan and the UK in the Kolar Gold Fields.
“Our underground neutrino lab in the Kolar Gold Fields first made that discovery. But experiments around neutrinos haven’t happened in India since the gold fields were closed. The INO will be our next major lab,” said Mondal.
Theoretical physicists working in India too are excited by the implications of the Higgs Boson’s discovery. “All the research I have done till date focuses on theories that can explain dark matter and dark energy. I have always assumed the existence of the Higgs Boson. Now I will be able to place specific values instead of approximations,” says Sreerup Raychaudhuri, associate professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
Raychaudhuri’s colleague Amol Dighe is also excited over the prospect of studying a particle that possibly isn’t the Higgs Boson even if it is similar to it. “I now have a starting point to do my research - I know for a fact that the mass of this particle is 125 times that of a proton,” says Dighe.