Nebraska Lecture will examine Higgs boson

Dan Claes
Dan Claes

The Higgs boson — often dubbed the "God particle" for its potential to explain the fundamental fabric of the universe — has captured scientists' attention for decades. The April 8 Nebraska Lecture will examine the Higgs boson's significance in understanding matter and how UNL researchers contributed to its discovery.

Dan Claes, professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, will present "What the Heck is a Higgs Boson?" at 3:30 p.m. in the Nebraska Union Auditorium, with a reception following. A live webcast will be available at with a video available within a week after the event.

"The Higgs boson was the most important scientific discovery in decades -- perhaps the single biggest scientific event of the 21st century," Claes said. "But no one really knows what it means, so the excitement hasn't spread much beyond the high-energy physicists involved."

In his lecture, Claes will describe the Standard Model of particle physics in lay terms and explain why the Higgs boson matters.

Claes is part of the UNL high-energy physics team that has long been engaged in research involving the Large Hadron Collider, the giant atom smasher at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, where physicists found evidence of the Higgs boson in 2012.

The discovery, which won the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics, was the result of decades of research by thousands of physicists worldwide, including Claes, Aaron Dominguez, Ken Bloom, Ilya Kravchenko and Greg Snow. These UNL researchers worked on the Compact Muon Solenoid particle detector and the grid of worldwide computing that was instrumental in confirming the Higgs boson’s existence. UNL physicists are leading a major collaboration, funded by the National Science Foundation, to improve the detector's sensitivity. The Holland Computing Center is one of seven U.S. CMS Tier-2 sites that process and store data from this international experiment.

This spring's lecture is especially timely. The Large Hadron Collider is being restarted this spring and will run with almost double the energy of its first run. Physicists worldwide are excited about the potential for new discoveries.

Claes' lecture is part of The Nebraska Lectures: Chancellor's Distinguished Lecture Series, sponsored by the UNL Research Council, Office of the Chancellor and Office of Research and Economic Development in partnership with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

— Ashley Washburn, Research and Economic Development