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The world’s most powerful particle accelerator is helping discover the universe’s deepest secrets

Located at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s most powerful particle accelerator and is used to study elementary particles and their interactions. The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment is a particle physics experiment conducted at the LHC and is one of the largest international scientific collaborations in history, including multiple Northeastern faculty members and students.

The CMS experiment is designed to investigate a wide range of physics phenomena, with a primary focus on the properties and behavior of particles like protons, electrons, and muons at extremely high energies. The experiment involves a CMS detector, a massive and complex instrument that surrounds one of the collision points of the LHC.

“[The LHC] is the most powerful microscope in the world,” says Emanuela Barberis, a professor in Northeastern’s Department of Physics. Barberis’ role in the CMS experiment is to work with the trigger system, the part of the LHC that makes decisions about what data to collect. Specifically, Barberis works on a detector of muons, a type of subatomic particle.

Based on how the muons bend in response to the magnets on the LHC, researchers can learn about them and their energy. From this knowledge, they can look for new phenomena like dark matter, explains Darien Wood, a professor in Northeastern’s Department of Physics. Wood’s work in the CMS experiment has included being the deputy system manager of the muon detector system, performing upgrades to the system to keep up with the increasing intensity of LHC experiments.

“[Dark Matter] is something we know is there. It’s very real. But we, as particle physicists, have no experimental evidence about what kind of particles it is [composed of]. So it’s a major mystery. It’s very exciting and there are a bunch of efforts going on to try to do direct detection of dark matter. And we think that maybe we can produce it directly at the LHC,” Wood adds.

The production of dark matter isn’t an unfair ask for the LHC. One of the most famous achievements of the LHC and CMS experiment was the discovery of the Higgs boson particle in 2012, a fundamental particle that plays a key role in giving mass to other particles.

“With this big experiment, we are able to tackle some very fundamental mysteries in physics that we can’t get out in any other way, which is what the discovery of the Higgs showed. Without this international collaboration, we would have never been able to discover it despite it being proposed for forty years,” Wood says.

Toyoko Orimoto, an associate professor of physics at Northeastern has worked closely with the Higgs boson particle throughout the CMS experiment.

“We’ve measured the [Higgs boson] properties inside and out and it looks very much like the particle it is expected to be. We also think the Higgs particle can potentially point us in the direction of physics to be discovered,” Orimoto describes.

Orimoto also works on the electromagnetic colorimeter, a part of the detector that precisely measures the energies of electrons and photons. In addition, Orimoto is working on building a new precision time detector that aims to handle a more challenging environment that will soon take place within the LHC.

A high luminosity adaptation to the LHC is the next step for the CMS experiment and will require significant upgrades to the current LHC detectors like the new precision time detector. The CMS experiment team received a National Science Foundation grant totaling over one million dollars to fund these upgrades, which Orimoto explains will increase the event rate of the particle collider.

Orimoto explains that increasing the event rate or ‘luminosity’ of the collider is an attempt to meet the need for as much data as possible to accurately evaluate the information found by the detector.

“In physics, the higher event rate doesn’t come for free, it comes with a really challenging environment and the [upgrades] will help us to optimally use that data and potentially also take us into new physics capabilities that we didn’t have previously,” Orimoto says.

Wood elaborates on this, describing the upgrades to the detector as a “bandwidth upgrade.”

“I use the analogy to a bandwidth upgrade because we need to get information out of this detector. If we want to see these very rare things that we’re looking for, we plan to massively increase the rate of collisions to five times what it was originally designed for … we don’t have the bandwidth right now,” Wood says.

Barberis echoes these sentiments and explains her team’s upgrades include the application of machine-learning techniques and artificial intelligence to make the detector’s decision-making algorithms more efficient.

However, this next step in the experiment does not come without challenges. The CMS experiment first started taking data in 2009 and parts of the CMS detector are over a decade old. Many of the researchers who built the original detector have since retired, so there is a new emphasis on training new generations to advance the detector.

“The CMS is almost like a living creature and it has to be nurtured and fed to keep doing its best through all these years,” Wood says.

The role of the younger generation in the CMS experiment can not be understated. Barberis, Orimoto, and Wood each describe a collaborative and connected environment between them and the students they oversee at CERN.

“The students and researchers are going from undergraduate, graduate, and so on. They’re very excited to be there. I think that part of the experiment is a very important aspect of this work, it is an international collaboration, and you are exposed to a very collaborative, inclusive, and accepting environment,” Wood shares.

Barberis explains the complex and rewarding role of working on experiments and simultaneously training new generations on current and future experiments.

“We are always with a foot in the past, present, and future, and that spans several decades sometimes. It’s nice to see my former students end up as leaders in the CMS experiment, too,” Barberis says.

The enduring commitment and collaborative efforts of researchers like Barberis, Orimoto, Wood, and their successors guarantee the ongoing evolution of particle physics, shaping the understanding of the universe’s mysteries.

November 30, 2023

Where do accents come from? Linguist explains why we talk the way we talk

When it comes to how we talk, accents are often the thing people focus on first. We love to do impressions, and certain accents even have an impact on what we buy. But what exactly is an accent, and how does one develop?

For starters, whether you’re a Bostonian craving some “chowdah,” a Southerner asking for a pin (or is it a pen?) or a Chicagoan looking for a new “jab,” everyone has an accent, even if you don’t think you have one.

“We all have our own accent, but it’s interesting to see the levels of awareness that people have about what qualifies as an accent or not,” says Adam Cooper, teaching professor and director of linguistics at Northeastern University.

Read more from Northeastern Global News.

Photo by Getty Images Illustration.

November 30, 2023

Northeastern University STEM students accelerate their professional development at the SASE National Conference

In October of 2023, the Northeastern Chapter of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE) attended the 2023 SASE National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference consisted of various workshops and panels led by industry leaders, networking opportunities, a hackathon, and a STEM career fair.  

Companies like the CIA, Proctor and Gamble, Boeing, and the U.S. Department of State were present at the conference and held workshops teaching skills like financial literacy, navigating conflict in the workplace, and creating a professional support network. Other SASE chapters from around the country, like the chapters from the University of Central Florida, Georgia Tech, and Ohio State University, also attended the conference. The members of SASE who attended the conference thought it gave them valuable insights on how to improve both their professional and interpersonal skills.  

One part of the conference that stood out to the attendees from the Northeastern SASE chapter was a workshop conducted by the CIA on how to craft an effective elevator pitch. During this panel, students created an elevator pitch about themselves and practiced delivering it by giving their pitch to five strangers. This workshop helped its participants improve their communication skills by teaching them how charisma can be used to produce an engaging interaction.  

Hear about the conference from a few members of the Northeastern Chapter of SASE below! 

Emilina Tran, third-year mechanical engineering major 

My first day at the conference consisted mainly of workshops and networking opportunities. The first workshop I attended was hosted by the CIA and revolved around elevator pitches. We were tasked with creating a 30- second overview of ourselves, describing our goals, hobbies, interests, etc. , then finding 5 people from other SASE chapters to practice with. This alleviated my initial fear of putting myself out there and allowed me to learn a lot about other members, as well as myself. Later on in the conference, I would use the same tips from the workshop to introduce myself to new people, and I found myself getting more confident after each interaction. 

Thanks to these newfound skills, I was able to connect with multiple other SASE chapters, such as Princeton, UT Austin, Colorado School of Mines, Georgia Tech, Louisiana State University, Arizona State University, and the University of Alabama. I was also able to interview with Procter and Gamble, a company that I’d had at the top of my list for co-op locations. 

Khushi Khan, second-year computer science major and SASE Programs Chair 

Not only was our professional development supported, but our cultures were celebrated as well. The good, events, and freebies were all related to Asian cultures in some way, showing us the ways in which our professional development can be uplifted alongside our cultural heritage.  

The conference not only broadened my understanding of what the professional world has to offer, but also encouraged me to take pride in my culture after seeing people who looked like me working at my dream companies. 

Esther Ho, second-year computer science and business major and SASE Pan Asian American Council Representative 

One of the most rewarding aspects of my experience at the National Conference was the chance to bond with my fellow members from our university’s chapter. Our teamwork and shared commitment to personal and professional growth created a strong sense of empowerment. We 

approached professionals, recruiters, and other SASE chapters, using our collective knowledge and support to make the most of the networking opportunities. We would go up to booths and representatives together to take out some of the initial fears of approaching a professional. This collaborative effort not only expanded our individual networks but also highlighted the strength and unity of our chapter. The connections and shared experiences we shared will definitely serve as a solid foundation for our future endeavors, both individually and as a chapter in the SASE and Northeastern community. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a supportive and driven group, and I’m excited to see how we continue to grow and make a mark in the years to come. 

Alina Gonzalez, second-year data science major 

SASE members stand in front of a statue at the SASE National Conference.

I was able to network with many other Filipino professionals who shared their experiences and offered me resume critiques which built my confidence as a Filipino myself. I think sharing experiences is critical at this time of my life as I don’t really know what to expect. There is only so much you can learn from in classes, so I strongly believe that being able to connect with these professionals aided me greatly in terms of strengthening my professional development. From interacting with so many different people, I was able to strengthen my elevator pitch and introductions. I also got to see a wide range of resumes, and I now know what projects or courses I should align myself with to better prepare myself for job searching or co-op searching. 

I-Ting Lo, fourth-year behavioral neuroscience major 

The workshops and panels I attended at the National Conference significantly contributed to my personal growth and development. These sessions offered invaluable insights and practical skills that have enhanced my understanding of various aspects of personal and professional life. For instance, the elevator pitch workshop, presented by the CIA, redefined my perception of effective communication by emphasizing the importance of charisma and character in making memorable impressions. This lesson goes beyond presenting facts and highlights the significance of creating genuine connections in brief interactions. Additionally, the CIA resume review session was instrumental in improving my professional qualifications. Feedback from recruiters and their guidance on strengthening my resume not only improved my resume but also led me to seek more personal experience to further boost my credentials. 

Furthermore, the panels on win-win negotiations and Mastering Financial Literacy provided concrete strategies for conflict resolution and responsible financial planning. The win-win negotiations panel equipped me with practical negotiation skills, including step-by-step approaches and email communication strategies for workplace conflicts. The insights gained from the Mastering Financial Literacy panel, particularly regarding responsible tax payment and the FIRE Movement, have reshaped my financial planning and underscored the importance of hard work in achieving realistic financial goals. The workshop on making a company work for you instilled in me the significance of resource utilization. It taught me to proactively seek support and resources within a company, fostering professional honesty and an emphasis on problem-solving. Overall, the workshops and panels have played a pivotal role in my personal growth by providing practical skills and a fresh perspective on effective communication, career development, financial literacy, and resource utilization, which have undoubtedly left a lasting impact on my personal and professional journey. 

Alexander Wang, first-year biology and data science major 

The CIA and FBI both had the slogan “we’re hiring just about anything you could think of”, which, upon inquiry, I learned that the CIA had ongoing biology-related research aligned with my intersection of that and data science – intended for furthering reconnaissance and intelligence analysis. The FBI also had similar opportunities – it is truly intriguing to see governmental agencies, which supposedly only focus on forensics/crime scene investigations, are offering activities such as these. Having attended resume review sessions hosted by prominent companies that were also present at the career fair, attending this conference has allowed me to capitalize on my current strengths and strategically mend my weaknesses. 

Overall, members of SASE considered this conference to be a success! The Northeastern chapter of SASE wants to extend their gratitude to the Northeastern College of Science for their ongoing commitment to the student organization.  

Next year, the SASE National Conference is going to be held in Boston, and Northeastern SASE is looking forward to participating in the event.  

November 29, 2023

Why “All I Want for Christmas is You” is still popular 30 years later

Some people begin playing Christmas music the moment the clock strikes 12 on Dec. 1 (or on Nov. 1 if they’re really spirited). Usually included on that playlist? Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

It’s been nearly 30 years since the elusive chanteuse released her Christmas hit. Since then, it’s become a holiday staple, topping the Billboard charts each holiday season and resulting with fans dubbing Carey “The Queen of Christmas.”

But what’s made this tune particularly synonymous with this time of year? A mix of things, including pure old nostalgia, says Psyche Loui, an associate professor of music and psychology at Northeastern University.

Read more from Northeastern Global News.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for MC

November 28, 2023

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