Fresno State's Role in the Hadron Collider and Experiment
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Thousands of scientists from around the globe are involved in a historic, monumental experiment to explain the origins of the universe - and Fresno State is in the thick of it.
Dr. Yongsheng Gao, a professor and particle physicist, is leading the university's role in the planet's biggest science experiment, the Large Hadron Collider. It's overseen by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, at a cost of $10 billion so far. Needless to say, it's attracted an extensive amount of attention worldwide.
Located near Geneva, Switzerland, the behemoth machine includes a subterranean 17-mile track on which beams of microscopic protons accelerate at extraordinary speeds from opposite directions so that they can smash into each other. Think of it as “mini Big Bangs” that scientists hope unlock the mysteries of matter.
“Some say the Hadron Collider is one of the most ambitious and exciting programs in human existence,” Gao said.
Fresno State's role is gathering and analyzing data from the portion of the experiment involving the ATLAS detector and particle physics, work that should continue for at least the next 20 to 25 years. Fresno State, in fact, is the only California State University campus involved in ATLAS and one of only 40 universities nationwide. The others? They include Yale, Harvard, MIT, Duke and other top-caliber campuses.
“This is raising the profile of Fresno State across the nation,” said Dr. Andrew Rogerson, dean of the university's College of Science and Mathematics.
Gao was instrumental in forging Fresno State's involvement. He first worked at the Hadron Collider in the 1990s on an experiment for his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He's been involved in the ATLAS experiment since 2002.
Gao, who came to Fresno State in 2007, said it's a thrilling experience not just for scientists but for many university students, including Fresno State students, who are participating in the research. Some have even spent time in Geneva to work alongside renowned physicists and see the collider up close.
“It's truly an international collaboration, and the most exciting thing is to bring our students into this kind of environment,” said Gao, who travels to the Geneva site several times a year for meetings and other activities.
In 2010, Fresno State secured a $620,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to buttress the data-collecting process. Fresno State took the lead in the effort with eight other universities across the country that are working on ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS). This group includes the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University.
Fresno State will use the funds for a Computational Science Center on campus that houses ATLAS computers and equipment. Rogerson said they plan to have it operating in 2011.The center will be a Tier 3 facility, one of only 10 in the United States working on ATLAS data.