Nobel Prize connection: Q&A with Professor Neeti Parashar
Professor of Physics Neeti Parashar’s research in high energy physics contributed to the recent discovery of the Higgs boson subatomic particle. The discovery prompted Tuesday’s (10/8) awarding of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics to theorists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert. It also established an unprecedented and historic moment for Professor Parashar and Purdue University Calumet.
That Purdue Calumet students and alumni also were involved in the research under Professor Parashar’s direction made Tuesday’s campus celebratory recognition all the more defining.
Following, in Q&A format, Professor Parashar discusses the Higgs boson, her research and more.
Q: What does it mean to you to participate on a Nobel Prize winning initiative such as this?
NP: Being part of a discovery leading to a Nobel Prize is absolutely exhilarating. While I have been working since 2004 on the experiment that co-jointly discovered the Higgs boson with another experiment, I never imagined that I would be a part of something at this elite level of scientific endeavor. In my opinion, this discovery is a crowning achievement of the century.
Q: What does the discovery of the Higgs boson particle mean to our understanding of the planet on which we live
NP: Discovery of the Higgs boson, aka, “The God Particle”, is a fundamental ingredient in the theory of particle physics, called the Standard Model. The theory predicts that the Higgs boson is responsible for origin of mass. The Higgs boson is an excitation of the Higgs field — energy that permeates the entire universe and gives particles their mass. The discovery of the Higgs boson has not only confirmed the accuracy of the Standard Model, but remarkably enhanced our scientific understanding about the nature of our universe. In short, if Higgs did not exist, we would not exist.
Q: How will the Higgs boson discovery impact future knowledge and understanding of our universe?
NP: Finding the Higgs was the last missing piece of the Standard Model of Particle Physics. This is a fundamental science area where we try to find clues to answer questions related to how our universe was created. Discoveries such as this can take decades before we see any practical application of it, but when it does, it is revolutionary and changes the face of the world. Crowning achievements such as this take our technologically-driven lives to an unprecedented level.
Q: As a physicist, researcher and human being, what do you consider the most important takeaway of having participated in this unprecedented, universe-impacting experience of discovery?
NP: When I joined the world of physics as a student, I never imagined that I would be working in a research area where potential Nobel Prize level discoveries await. I am very humbled by the recognition of our collaborative work. The faith of my family, teachers and mentors in my hard work has enabled me to continue the path of research work. The most important takeaway for me is that in my lifetime, I am both a witness and part of a discovery that commenced nearly 50 years ago. Not many are as fortunate as I am.
Q: What role did you play on the research team?
NP: My research teams consist of myself, a post-doctoral research associate, two physics undergraduates and one electrical engineering undergraduate. The National Science Foundation has federally funded us since 2005 when I joined Purdue University Calumet. We have contributed to the construction of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), developed software programs to run subsystems and analyzed data from the proton-proton collisions.
Q: How were you able to engage your students in this research effort, and what did they contribute?
NP: Our students have done a phenomenal job in leading efforts single-handedly such as “responsibility for Tracker Validation”. Tracker is a subsystem of the CMS detector, and it is critical to provide and check for accuracy of the data and the simulated events, in order to ensure that it functions well. Our students have been leaders in this role, presenting their work remotely, at least once a month to scientists from all over the world. My students also contributed to the construction of the Forward Pixel Detector at the silicon detector facility located at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, developing computing programs and training documents for new incoming scientists to the experiment.