IIHE people





IIHE - Interuniversity Institute for High Energies (ULB-VUB)

The IIHE was created in 1972 at the initiative of the academic authorities of both the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
Its main topic of research is the physics of elementary particles.
The present research programme is based on the extensive use of the high energy particle accelerators and experimental facilities at CERN (Switzerland) and DESY (Germany) as well as on non-accelerator experiments at the South Pole.
The main goal of this experiments is the study of the strong, electromagnetic and weak interactions of the most elementary building blocks of matter. All these experiments are performed in the framework of large international collaborations and have led to important R&D activities and/or applications concerning particle detectors and computing and networking systems.
Research at the IIHE is mainly funded by Belgian national and regional agencies, in particular the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) en het Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (FWO) and by both universities through their Research Councils.
The IIHE includes 19 members of the permanent scientific staff, 20 postdocs and guests, 31 doctoral students, 8 masters students, and 15 engineering, computing and administrative professionals.


The IceCube neutrino observatory at the South Pole is the world's largest neutrino telescope, completed in 2011 and taking data since 2005!

The detector is composed of 80 strings of 60 sensors deployed in the Antarctic glacier, between 1500 and 2500 m of depth. As its name suggests, IceCube covers an instrumented volume of one cubic kilometer. The DeepCore extension of IceCube is composed of 6 additional string in the center of the IceCube array, where the puriest ice can be found. At the surface, the IceTop air shower array equiped each IceCube string with 2 pairs of sensors in an ice tank of 3 square-meter.


Pinning down the bottom, charm and top quark

The bottom quark, discovered in 1977, is special, as in LHC collisions it usually lives in unstable particles that travel a few millimeters before they transition into particles that physicists can identify with our very accurate tracking detectors. At the IIHE we are leading the effort in the CMS experiment to identify bottom (or beauty) quarks. Bottom quarks are also extremely useful to identify top quarks, the heaviest known elementary particle, and Brout-Englert-Higgs bosons. At the IIHE we are also developing the tools to distinguish collisions containing bottom quarks from those where charm quarks are produced. This will be extremely useful to study how often top quarks decay to charm quarks instead of b-quarks, a very rare process in the Standard Model that if larger than expected would be a convincing sign for new physics!


Observation of a New Particle with a Mass of 125 GeV

In a joint seminarar at CERN and the “ICHEP 2012” conference in Melbourne, researchers of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) presented their preliminary results on the search for the standard model (SM) Brout-Englert-Higgs boson in their data recorded up to June 2012. CMS observes an excess of events at a mass of approximately 125 GeV with a statistical significance of five standard deviations (5 sigma) above background expectations. The probability of the background alone fluctuating up by this amount or more is about one in three million. The evidence is strongest in the two final states with the best mass resolution: first the two-photon final state and second the final state with two pairs of charged leptons (electrons or muons). We interpret this to be due to the production of a previously unobserved particle with a mass of around 125 GeV.


The needle in the haystack

Physicists working in the CMS experiment regularly have to spend their time searching for a needle in a haystack. In other words we look for the rarest of rare collisions that represent very unlikely physics processes. An example of work done at the IIHE is the search for the production of four top quarks (the needle) in the huge dataset recorded by CMS in 2012 (the haystack). Our results put an extremely tight limit on the production of four top quarks, indeed the tightest limit at the LHC so far. As four top quarks are also produced in many new theories of physics such as supersymmetry, this limit can tell us a lot about the validity of these theories.


Shown here is a record breaking event from the 2010 LHC run at the Compact Muon Solenoid,

a collision event with both an electron and very high missing transverse energy. The electron is represented by the red trapezoid (the length is proportional to the electron's energy), while the transverse energy is represented by the red arrow. Missing transverse energy is a quantity used to identify particles that did not leave a detectable signature. The IIHE is actively involved in the study of this kind of collisions, in collaboration with other groups of the CMS experiment. If the rate of these kind of collisions would be unexpectedly high, it would be a hint of the existence of, for example, extra dimensions.


Dark matter searches with IceCube

According to the most recent observations and based on the standard model of cosmology, dark matter makes up 26.8% of the energy density in our Universe The argument that yet to be detected Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) make up the dark matter is compelling. Over time, WIMPs may accumulate in the center of the Sun and Earth, and annihilate with each other. The decay products may vary, and most of them will interact and decay in the massive body. If neutrinos are created from those secondaries, they will escape and provide a neutrino flux. This neutrino flux could be measured by the IceCube Neutrino Detector. Data taken by AMANDA and IceCube have been analysed at the IIHE to search for WIMPs in the centre of the Sun and Earth; no significant excess above background was observed so far.


Astroparticle Physics revolves around phenomena that involve (astro)physics under the most extreme conditions.

Cosmic explosions, involving black holes with masses a billion times greater than the mass of the Sun, accelerate particles to velocities close to the speed of light and display a variety of relativistic effects. The produced high-energy particles may be detected on Earth and as such can provide us insight in the physical processes underlying these cataclysmic events. Having no electrical charge and interacting only weakly with matter, neutrinos are special astronomical messengers. Only they can carry information from violent cosmological events at the edge of the observable universe directly towards the Earth. At the Inter-university Institute for High Energies (IIHE) in Brussels we are involved in a world wide effort to search for high-energy neutrinos originating from cosmic phenomena. For this we use the IceCube neutrino observatory at the South Pole, the world's largest neutrino telescope which is now completed and taking data.


South Pole tuning in on "Skyradio"

The Askaryan Radio Array (ARA) is one of the future South Pole neutrino observatories focusing on the detection of neutrinos with energies beyond 10^17 eV. It utilizes radio waves, emitted from neutrino induced cascades in the South Pole ice sheet, to detect neutrino interactions. The detector is currently in the construction phase as is shown in the picture below. A grid of 37 antenna clusters, spaced by 2 km, is planned to be deployed in the South Pole ice at a depth of 200 m. By this, the full ARA detector will cover an instrumented area of about 100 km^2 and represent a state of the art detector for cosmic neutrinos in the energy range between 10^17 eV and 10^19 eV.

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