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ETSU student at CERN when God particle discovery was announced

Nick Shepherd • Jul 11, 2012 at 9:56 PM

An East Tennessee State University physics student was doing an internship with Duke University that eventually sent her to Geneva, Switzerland. The research project Olivia Miller was working on took her to the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN.

Miller was in the conference room when scientists announced the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, also known as the “God particle.” She tried to get to the conference early, but some people were already there waiting in the packed room.

“I arrived at CERN just after 5 a.m. that morning to wait in line to get inside of the conference room, and there were people already there who had been waiting since the previous night,” Miller said. “I was very lucky to make it inside the conference room because it only seats around 200 to 300 people, I believe.”

Miller said the atmosphere inside the conference room was a feeling of triumph, especially when the results were announced.

CERN is a multinational research center headquartered in Geneva. CERN also contains the Large Hadron Collider, an immense particle accelerator that collides particles together. The colliding particles led to the discovery of a new particle that scientists say is like the Higgs particle.

Miller went to Duke through a physics research experience for undergraduates program. She spent five weeks at Duke working on her research, and then Duke sent her to CERN to further her research. She is staying in France because CERN sits on the border of Switzerland and France.

Miller said she is learning a lot in her time with CERN.

“I think working at CERN has already given me great insight into what a career as a high energy research physicist could potentially be like,” she said. “It has also given me valuable hands-on research experience as well as given me a great opportunity to work and communicate within a research group with a common goal and learn from the members of this group.”

Miller is from Maryville, and chose ETSU because of the University Honors Scholars Program. Miller said she is happy with her choice.

She is researching new ways to supply a more accurate reading of particles when they collide. The collider will be undergoing upgrades that will increase the energy of experiments.

The entire outer layer of the collider at CERN will need to be replaced with an all-silicon-based tracking detector in order to handle the upgrades better, Miller said.

She is working on a prototype of hardware that conducts radio frequency scans on the silicon detectors. The reason these scans are needed is because electromagnectic interference can cause malfunctions on the machine.

The Higgs Boson particle is thought to be the origin of mass. The particle is associated with a field, called the Higgs field, theorized to spread throughout the universe. When particles travel though this field, they acquire mass.

Miller has learned a lot about the particle since she has started her research.

“I would say that I have a basic understanding of the Higgs particle and its significance,” she said. “I have especially learned more about it since I have been at CERN.”

Miller plans to attend graduate school when she graduates from ETSU. She wants to work toward her doctorate in physics. She doesn’t know where just yet, but plans on applying to schools in the fall.

Miller is excited about what her research could mean for the future of science.

“I think that right now what I’m working on at CERN will help allow for the ATLAS experiment in the future to run at higher energies,” she said. “That will increase the potential of discovering new particles and overall further our understanding of the universe.”

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