HAMMOND — A Purdue University Northwest physics professor and two students majoring in physics and mathematics spent weeks at CERN in Switzerland last summer doing scientific research.
Neeti Parashar, who heads PNW's high-energy physics program, has conducted research with colleagues on the Compact Muon Solenoid at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, a multinational research center in Switzerland.
Parasher, PNW junior Christopher "Eddie" McGrady and senior Christopher Perry went to Switzerland this past summer. At CERN, physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe.
According to CERN's website, scientists use the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter — called the fundamental particles.
The particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. The process gives the physicists clues about how the particles interact and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature.
It was just five years ago that Parashar learned she was among those on the winning team that won the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics. The prize was awarded to Peter Higgs, of the University of Edinburgh, and Francois Englert, of the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, for their discovery of the Higgs boson subatomic particle, dubbed "the God particle."
Parashar was among thousands of physicists who served on the winning team. At that time, Parashar said she had been working on the theory for 10 years.
She said it may be another 100 years before physicists really know how the particle can be used or what applications there will be for society.
"It's kind of like when an electron was discovered years ago," she said Monday in her office at Purdue.
"No one knew how electrons would be used when they were first discovered. Now we know that electron means light, electricity," she said.
"It's a building block. The boson is a theory that things in air, things in space, join up and stick together. The discovery itself is a crowning achievement. This particle had remained elusive for 50 years. It's a big deal for the entire physics community."
Parashar said the work scientists do at CERN is pure research, meaning they do not concern themselves with how they might apply what they are trying to understand.
"It's figuring out the structure of the universe," she said. "Are there particles that exist in nature that we are not aware of? There is a long list of fundamental questions that help us to know about our universe. These things are important to the world of science."
Parashar has been a faculty member at Purdue's Hammond campus since 2005. Supported by the National Science Foundation, Parashar has conducted most of her research on the Higgs boson at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, in partnership with the National Science Foundation. She also involved several of her students in the research.
"There is not an immediate application," McGrady said. "Relativity was discovered in the early 20th century, but it didn't have any applications until we started using GPS (Global Positioning Systems); now it's something we use all the time.
"We use quantum physics for the internet. We use electrodynamics for electricity. These are things that take decades to figure out the applications. It's a process. You have the mathematics, which starts the process. Then, physicists use the mathematics to figure out more about the universe. Somewhere down the line, engineers begin applying it. ... Understanding it eventually leads to application."