The India-based Neutrino Observatory in Theni may be the portal to a new frontier in physics theories

The scientific community in Chennai played its own role in the discovery of the new subatomic particle that the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced last week as being “consistent with a Higgs Boson.”

Prafulla Kumar Behera worked at ATLAS - one of the two independent teams at CERN behind the discovery- for five years before returning to India. “Science transcends boundaries. I was working with scientists from different countries. Nationalities did not matter as the experiment was our only concern,” said Professor Behera who is currently a Visiting Associate Professor at the Department of Physics, IIT-Madras.

Prof Behera addressed a packed auditorium at IIT-Madras recently during a session on the discovery of the Higgs Boson and what it means for our understanding of nature. “Our hope is that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) may address several unanswered questions related to the nature,” he said while sharing some of his experiences in Geneva. Once his team had to redesign a detector at ATLAS, due to a technical glitch, within a short span of three months. 

Although he left ATLAS in March this year to work on the proposed India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) in the Theni district of the State, Prof Behera is happy to have played a role in the discovery of the elusive particle.

Scientists say that the Higgs Boson, until now a theoretical particle, is the cornerstone of the Standard Model which is “the basis of almost all of known physics except gravity.” However, in the wake of the discovery, a huge leap in our understanding of the nature, physicists in Chennai are looking at “the next big thing.”

“The Standard Model has its limitations. There is a need to look beyond it. The INO may be the portal to go beyond the existing theory,” said Prof G. Rajasekaran of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

It is known that research institutes in Kolkata, Allahabad, Mumbai and Bhubaneswar were involved in the experiment at CERN. However, physicists at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai point out the institute too did not lag behind in contributions to the theory which is central to the Higgs Boson

For instance, Prof Rajasekaran recognised the viability of the Standard Model as it came into existence. His colleague Prof Rahul Sinha is a member of the Belle Collaboration in Japan which has made major experimental contributions to the development of the theory.

The discovery has generated a lot of interest in physics, especially among the students in the city. Physicists are being approached by schools to conduct lectures and demonstrations.

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