Higgs helpers cement HK-CERN pact

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 July, 2012, 12:00am

Two Hong Kong students were part of the team that discovered the 'God particle', or Higgs boson, in Switzerland last week.

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) was so impressed with their contributions that they signed an agreement with Chinese University yesterday to continue a student research programme.

The Higgs boson is a subatomic particle that helps explain why all matter has mass. Its discovery could revolutionise scientific understanding of the fabric of the universe.

First hypothesised in 1964 by British physicist Peter Higgs, scientists have been searching for evidence of the particle for the past 45 years. The particle identified by CERN contains many characteristics consistent with the elusive Higgs boson.

Last summer Martin Kwok Ka-hei, 22, and John Leung Shing-chau, 21, became the first students from Hong Kong to join the international research teams at CERN's site near the French border.

They worked alongside 150 students from around the world, and refer to CERN's Large Hadron Collider, which smashes protons together to produce data for researchers to analyse, as 'the discovering machine'. 'It is the most powerful particle accelerator in the world and was responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson particle,' said Leung.

After attending daily morning lectures, Kwok worked as part of a team that analysed the huge set of data produced by the machine. Leung worked on a team that made components for the particle accelerator.

'The best part was working with people from around the world,' said Leung. 'Our friends from Italy even taught us how to make Italian pasta.'

From next month, the students will be pursuing masters of physics degrees at Chinese University, where they will simultaneously work as staff researchers for CERN.

'There is so much potential for CERN to produce many more important discoveries, and I'm so happy that I'll be a part of it,' said Kwok.

Professor Chu Ming-chung, of Chinese University, said the physics students' success was a testament to the potential of Hong Kong-trained researchers to contribute to scientific discoveries.

'I told the students they weren't just representing our school, they were representing all of Hong Kong. I hope the government will invest more in scientific research so that we can produce important discoveries from our own city.'