Tuesday, January 8, 2019

"The Higgs Boson" - An Interview with Heather Gray, PhD of UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley Labs

By Shoshana Harlem (MSS intern, Terra Linda High School)

Heather Gray is an Assistant Professor at UC Berkeley/Lawrence Berkeley Lab. Her main area of study is the Higgs Boson, but she also focuses on studying silicon pixel detectors and algorithms.

Heather Gray PhD
Heather Gray 

1. What made you want to study the Higgs Boson? 

I came to study physics somewhat by chance, but as soon as I heard about particle physics, it was immediately obvious to me that this is something that I find extremely interesting and wanted to study. When I finished my PhD, we were collecting lots of data and I wanted to look for the Higgs boson because it's an important particle and was the only particle missing from the Standard Model.

2. What are the best parts of your job?

 There are many great parts about my job. The privilege of being able to understand deep questions about how the universe works is probably the best. I also get to work with smart people from all over the world and to travel to interesting places.

3. What are the worst parts of your job?

Not much, but if you push me, I guess I'd have to say too many meetings.

4. What is the Higgs Boson?

Higgs Boson particle
The Higgs boson is a particle that is thought to be responsible for particle masses. It was first predicted back in the 1960s and discovered by my experiment (ATLAS) and another one (CMS) only in 2012. We collide protons traveling at close to the speed of light and destroy them to use that energy to produce Higgs bosons. The Higgs boson is very unstable and decays almost immediately to other particles in the Standard Model.

5. What current research are you working on?

Right now I'm working to study how the Higgs interacts with quarks. In the Standard Model, the Higgs is predicted to interact with all particles that have mass and for the strength of the interaction to be proportional to the particle mass. The quarks have a wide range of masses so this makes them particularly interesting to study to try to understand if this particle that we've discovered is the Higgs boson as predicted by the Standard Model. 

Want to learn more about Heather Gray and the Higgs Boson? Join us on Wednesday, January 9 at Terra Linda High School from 7:30 PM - 8:30 PM in Room 207!

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Marin Science Seminar is a one-hour science lecture/presentation with a question and answer period open to all interested local teenagers, educators and community. Seminar sessions are held 12 Wednesday evenings during the school year, from 7:30 to 8:30 pm in room 207 at Terra Linda High School, 320 Nova Albion Way, San Rafael. Seminar speakers are scientists, mathematicians, engineers, physicians, technologists and computer programmers. The topics presented are in a specific area of the speaker’s expertise, geared to interested high school students.