Understanding the forces of nature

Understanding the forces of nature
December 17, 2014 Sarah Nisbet

Professor Tony Williams

Professor Tony Williams

When it comes to sub-atomic particle research you just can’t have too much computing power, which is why researchers at the Centre for the Subatomic Structure of Matter (CSSM) have a long-standing relationship with eResearch SA.

In his role of Associate Director of the CSSM, Tony Williams, Professor of Physics at the University of Adelaide, is involved in exploring the characteristics and interactions of sub-atomic particles.

“For this sort of work computing capacity becomes the limiting factor. We need to access as much computing power as we can get our hands on,” Professor Williams said.

“eResearch SA has been critical to the success of our work, providing us with the infrastructure we need to deliver the outcomes we’re achieving.

“We have a long-standing relationship with them as both a customer and collaborator, particularly in the areas of computation and modelling.”

Professor Williams’ work involves developing complex computer models to explore the properties of sub-atomic particles.

When a model appears to work it is tested by taking it to extremes – infinitely large and infinitely small – to analyse the robustness of the model and how the particles in it perform under different conditions.

“This type of testing requires huge amounts of processing power and data storage, which we access through eResearch SA’s supercomputers,” Professor Williams said.

“Their team is very reliable and we receive great support and assistance from them, particularly Deputy Director Paul Coddington and Shunde Zhang, a computer specialist with a particular interest in data management.”

Professor Williams is also a member of the Adelaide Node of the Centre of Excellence for Particle Phyiscs at the tera scale (CoEPP); a global network of researchers working on data generated from the Large Hadron Collider experiment that has confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, a particle so short-lived its existence can be proved only from the particles left after its decay.

He considers confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson the major scientific discovery to have occurred during his scientific career and is excited to be working on data from the experiment that will reveal the characteristics of the elusive particle, which may or may not be what is predicted in the ‘standard model’ researchers have developed over many years.

“One of our tasks is to examine the data from the collision experiment to see whether or not the Higgs boson decay products are present in the ratios predicted by the standard model.

“If they are, that will confirm the model as accurate and that the characteristics of the Higgs boson are as predicted. If they are not it will indicate that the Higgs boson is not quite what we expected and that some exciting new physics beyond the standard model remains to be discovered.

“Whatever the outcomes, this exciting work, much of which is being done using eResearch SA computing resources, will lead to greater understanding of the forces of nature at the sub-atomic level and is likely to point to as yet undiscovered sub-atomic particles and new avenues of research.”

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