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    A feature article for the Kennesaw State University Magazine about particle physics.
Kennesaw State University Magazine: Quest for the Higgs Boson
This Kennesaw State University Magazine feature article explores the computational physics research of a KSU professor searching for a mysterious particle that could explain matter.
Professor Nikolaos Kidonakis is an explorer. But
instead of searching for new lands, stars or planets,
he’s focused on the tiniest parts of the universe that
make up everything around us. For more than a decade,
his research has been looking into the fundamental particles
that compose all matter in the universe.

Now, with a three-year, $100,923 grant from the
National Science Foundation, he’s on a quest to find a
particle that could help explain why matter has mass.

“We think we know what mass is, but how do we know
what mass is, fundamentally?” Kidonakis asked. “How
do particles have mass?”

His search for the answers to those questions will help
scientists better understand the nature of the universe.
In June 2006, he received the award to conduct a study
titled “Top Quark and Higgs Physics, and Two-Loop

Beyond the basic parts of the atom that we all learned
about in elementary school — electrons, protons and
neutrons — those atomic particles are made up of tinier
particles called quarks.

There are six different types of quarks, each described
by unusual names — “top,” “bottom,” “up,” “down,”
“strange” and “charm,” Kidonakis explained.

Quarks are basic parts of particle physics. So are other
particles known as leptons, bosons, photons and gluons.
But there’s one particle that could help explain why
some of these particles have mass — the Higgs boson.
Kidonakis’ research is looking into the existence of that

“We believe that all of these particles acquire mass
through the interaction of the Higgs particle, but the
Higgs particle is the only particle that hasn’t been
discovered yet,” Kidonakis explained.

An ‘exciting time’ for particle physics

He’s working with colleagues across the United States
and Europe to find the Higgs particle. A major part of
his research also includes studies of the top quark
because it’s the most massive elementary particle
yet discovered.

His fellow physicists are using colliders — large, mileswide
particle accelerators — to smash particles together
at high amounts of energy.

“When you smash these protons together, in high
energy accelerators, you can probe very small distances
and create new particles,” Kidonakis said. “The energies
are very high, and the protons move at almost the speed
of light.”

The collider with the highest energies currently in
operation is the Tevatron at the federal Fermi National
Accelerator Laboratory outside of Chicago in Batavia, Ill.

But it will soon be superseded by the massive Large
Hadron Collider at the European Organization for
Nuclear Research, known by its acronym CERN, on the
France-Switzerland border.

The LHC is expected to come online later this year to
wide anticipation, Kidonakis said. After all, the LHC was
first planned 22 years ago, according to CERN, and will
have a circumference of nearly 17 miles.

“It's a very exciting time for particle physics,” he said.

Kennesaw State, however, doesn’t have a collider
because of the tremendous cost.

That’s why Kidonakis’ research is more theoretical —
using complex mathematics to detect the probability
that a collision will create certain particles, including the
production of the top quark.

“I’m analytically deriving the mathematical formulas,
and then I will plug them into a computer program so I
can get numerical results,” Kidonakis said.

“Once I do that, I can compare the results of my
calculations with the data from the experiments that
are done at these colliders.”

By comparing theories and experiments, scientists can
test to see if their theories are valid, he said, or if they
are discovering something entirely new altogether.

Enhancing KSU’s profile

Kidonakis’ NSF grant will help pay for travel and
conferences, summer salary and relief faculty to help
with his teaching load so he can devote more time
to research.

KSU’s Office of Sponsored Programs
assisted Kidonakis with the
process to apply for the

It’s not easy to secure
external funding, according
to Laura Letbetter, director of
proposal development and
programmatic research.

“Securing that first major
external award can be a long,
arduous process,” she said. “If
you feel consumed by the daily
demands of a heavy teaching
load and service obligations, it can
be difficult to picture yourself venturing
down that path.

“It is also quite the norm these
days to revise and resubmit a proposal
two or three times before getting
funded. Persistence is the key.”
While Kennesaw State is not technically
one of Georgia’s public research
universities, faculty members perform
substantial research — a practice that continues to grow
as KSU expands.

The research of Kidonakis — whose field of physics at
Kennesaw State doesn’t have a minor, let alone a major
— is helping to enhance KSU’s profile as an institution
of higher learning.

“The project enhances the research environment at
KSU and creates quality undergraduate research opportunities
for the students who will participate in cuttingedge
research through directed studies under Dr.
Kidonakis’ mentorship,” Letbetter said.

Besides enhancing KSU’s profile, Kidonakis’ research
will provide many benefits — some indirect and some
yet unknown.

The next World Wide Web

Indirectly, the worldwide collaboration in the search
for the Higgs boson has resulted in the need for a new
method to transfer extremely large data files.

“The next step after the World Wide Web has already
been created,” Kidonakis said. “It’s called ‘the Grid.’
Beyond the usual Web, it will help the transfer of large
files and can be used in other fields.”

The World Wide Web, Kidonakis noted, also grew
out of the need for physicists to exchange information
and was once just a small part of
the overall internet.

Perhaps, one day, the
Grid will become as commonplace
as the Web, he said.
It could be decades,
though, before direct benefits
to humanity can be known
from the search for the
Higgs boson, Kidonakis

“As far as the direct
benefits, the honest
answer is, ‘We don’t
know,’ because these
things usually take 50,
even 100, years until
you actually know the
consequences of your
research,” he said.

“It’s kind of like
when (Albert)
Einstein discovered special
relativity. In 1905, it was just a purely theoretical
construct, and nobody knew then what benefits
it would have. Of course, nuclear energy came from
out of his theories.”

Similarly, the study of quantum mechanics —
attempting to understand the atom — in the 1920s and
’30s was eventually responsible for the basis of modern
technology, from televisions to computers.

“That is something nobody could have foreseen
happening 50 years later,” Kidonakis said.

In the end, it’s the satisfaction of human curiosity that’s
the greatest benefit, he explained.

“Everyone is curious about the universe,” he said.
“We have this innate desire to discover the origins of
the universe.”