Searching for the Higgs-Boson

A report by Ylfa Günther, 5th Semester Catholic Theology, M.A. / 3rd Semester Education Science, B.Sc.

On November 4th, 2019, the Institute for Nuclear Physics at JGU opened its gates for students of very different subjects. As part of the Q+ program, physics student Saskia Plura and Konrad Kleineidam moderated a day’s event for a group of 16 students. For an unusual touch, none of the students had previous possessed academic knowledge of nuclear physics, but at the end of the day, all participants admired the Mainz Microtron (MAMI) with a new appreciation of its inner workings.

Why the Neutrino Would Like to Be a Ghost and Other Exciting Questions

The event began in the lobby of the Institute for Nuclear Physics. It quickly became clear that few students had taken high-level physics at school, and that quite were from the humanities. Still, the group showed a great interest in physics. Dr. Jürgen Ahrens from the Institute for Nuclear Physics taught a theoretical introduction, and showed himself impressed by the range of questions from students. Dr. Ahrens explained the composition of MAMI in clear and vivid terms and managed to give even non-physicists an understanding of complex processes and intricate interactions. Equipped with knowledge of electrons, photons, the “ghost particle” neutrinos, and quarks, we began the exciting journey through MAMI.

Huge Effort for Tiny Particles

Who has ventured underneath the campus to look at the incredibly large devices that process huge amounts of data and draw scientists from around the world to Mainz? The Mainz Microtron, first commissioned in 1979 and completed in 2006, distinguishes itself from other accelerators through its exact data collection and precise experiments. The particle accelerator spreads across multiple large halls, where the centerpiece of Mainz’s nuclear physics waits for its admirers. At MAMI, an electron ray of less than 0.1mm diameter is accelerated to energies beyond 1.5 GeV and used for a multitude of different experiments. We, too, were highly impressed by the gigantic devices and elaborate experiments, which drew many “oohs” and “aahs.” Our guides Saskia Plura and Konrad Kleineidam took a lot of time to answer all questions that arose due to the complex constructs. As if in a climbing park, we traversed the halls over high bridges and under low barriers. One experiment seemed to top the next in complexity and fascination. For example, our path led us past crystals that were bombarded with electrons, as well as magnets that grew more imposing from hall to hall.

For each of the experiments, our Q+ group received a captivating introduction by Dr. Ahrens and his assistant, as well as insights into the work at MAMI. The high point of the tour was quite literally the three 15 meter high spectrometers.

From a gallery, we had an excellent view over numerous pipes and cables that led into the scattering experiment. To imagine that tiny particles imperceptible to the eye are conveyed through these gigantic instruments, magnets, and conduits makes MAMI even more impressive in retrospect. An enormous effort for tiny particles, still pursued by scientist with passion after many years, is behind “our” Mainz Microtron. This realization amazes not only physicists!

„Now you are the physicists…!“ and Conclusion

Invigorated by a shared lunch, the Q+ group reunited one last time to have a try at analyzing data from the ATLAS experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The required precision for data readouts posed an unexpected challenge for some, but soon everyone got the hang of it and solved the required tasks.

Along with this practical exercise, we received an in-depth look at scientific work through Saskia Plura’s bachelor’s thesis and Konrad Kleineidam’s fascinating report from CERN, which rounded out the day’s event. One conclusion to draw from the final discussion is that MAMI is well worth a visit! Whether physicist or humanities student, the impressions from the particle accelerator will last, and the enthusiasm of our MAMI guides was infectious. My personal takeaway, as a student from another discipline, is that venturing into “strange waters” and other disciplines is highly rewarding, as it is the only way to sate and expand one’s curiosity. Even though I didn’t leave MAMI as a trained physicist, I took with me a great range of impulses and impressions that revived my previous knowledge of physics, but mainly my joy of discovery. In the end, I give my heartfelt thanks to all those whose enthusiasm made this great day for the Q+ group possible!

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