$25m ARC Centre on origins of universe

Volume 7 Number 2 February 14 - March 13 2011

Unraveling the secrets of the universe is the focus of a new $25m national centre, led by the University of Melbourne. Rebecca Scott reports.

For more than 20 years, particle physicists from the University of Melbourne’s School of Physics have been contributing to the research and development of a giant particle detector, called the ATLAS experiment, based at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

The LHC, as it is known, is a 27km long collider ring based underground and designed to recreate conditions as they were shortly after the Big Bang and hence the beginning of the universe.

The longstanding effort of the University of Melbourne scientists and their colleagues has been rewarded recently with the announcement of a new $25m Australia Research Council Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale (CoEPP). The Centre to be led by the University of Melbourne will explore the origins of the universe after the Big Bang using the ATLAS experiment.

With partners including the University of Adelaide, Monash University, the University of Sydney and a list of international collaborators, the CoEPP will explore particle physics at terascale energies (a million million electron volts).

Director of CoEPP, Professor Geoff Taylor of the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne said by probing fundamental particle interactions at higher energies, more would be discovered about the early stages of the evolution of the universe after the Big Bang.

“Exciting new physics such as the existence of extra dimensions of space, microscopic black holes, and an extension of relativity called super symmetry, are possible discoveries motivated by plausible extensions of the standard model of particle physics,” Professor Taylor says.

In particular, scientists say they are sure to discover the elusive Higgs Boson particle which explains how particles of matter get their mass and which has never been found.

“The Centre will greatly expand Australia’s role in the largest pure science enterprise on planet Earth, the Large Hadron Collider,” Professor Taylor says.

“Our collective scientific effort will leave a legacy of enhanced national capability at the forefront of this intellectual endeavour.”

The renowned Director-General of CERN, Switzerland, Professor Rolf-Dieter Heuer, made the announcement at the Australian Institute of Physics congress in Melbourne last year. He was also announced as the Chair of the International Advisory Committee of the ARC Centre.

Professor Taylor said the involvement of Professor Heuer in the ARC Centre reinforced the international standing of the particle physics expertise in Australia.

“We are very excited to make this announcement which commences a new era of Australian collaborative scientific research in the field of particle physics and understanding the beginnings of the universe,” he says.

Director of the Melbourne node, Professor Ray Volkas of the University of Melbourne, said the Centre provides an exciting new environment for theorists and experimental particle physicists to collaborate in trying to unravel the origins of mass and the beginnings of the universe.

“In addition, strong linkages will be forged through advanced grid and cloud computing, the basis of research behind a lot of these experiments, with state and national advanced computing facilities and major corporations,” Professor Volkas says.