Fascinating Magic: by J. William Bell 1 2 3 4 5
 Detector details

Data on the events that follow the proton collisions will be collected by giant detectors built around the LHC's interaction areas. These detectors will be filled with tubes of gases, silicon strips, and electronic sensors and encrusted with other electronics used to identify the particles produced.

The Caltech team's search for a Higgs boson will exploit a detector known as the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS). The CMS experiment will have about 100 million individual sensors, all controlled and monitored by computer. "The CMS is the size of a very large house and built in layers like an onion," says Julian Bunn, a senior scientist at Caltech's Center for Advanced Computing Research.

Even the CMS will not detect the Higgs boson directly. Because the particle is incredibly short-lived, researchers will rely on circumstantial evidence. Higgs bosons are thought to decay in many different ways, or channels. In one channel, a pair of photons of a particular energy are created. The team will watch for a pair of electromagnetic radiation showers picked up by the detector. If these showers match the signature for the pair photons, then the team will have evidence of a Higgs boson.

 CMS schematic
 Schematic of the Compact Muon Solenoid.
Image courtesy of CERN
Click to enlarge the image.

"The Higgs particles go only a couple of millimeters and last a fraction of a second before decaying to other particles. Our views of these tricky characters will always be indirect," says Bunn.


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