Some of Canada’s top physicists are in Regina to take part in a two-day workshop to help them co-ordinate their efforts as they prepare to unlock the secrets of the universe. “This project is going to generate core knowledge about characteristics of the universe that are simply going to rewrite the physics books,” said Dave Gauthier, the University of Regina’s vice-president of research. He welcomed representatives from the nine Canadian universities involved in the Big Bang Machine workshop being held at the university this week. The ATLAS project aims to recreate the environment immediately after the Big Bang — the theory that has been used to explain how the universe developed — at a cost of $9.5 billion. It will involve 35 countries, 164 institutions and almost 2,000 scientists and is set to take place at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) located at the CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) scientific centre near Geneva, Switzerland next year. “This meeting is the opportunity for Canadian participants to discuss their particular research plans and co-ordinate them so they’re well-prepared for when it begins,” said Gauthier.
The physics community has dedicated 15 years to this experiment and it’s an enormous undertaking, he explained. “Because physics forms the basis of so many things that go on in our lives, the outcomes of that are probably enormous,” explained Gauthier. Katherine Bergman, the dean of science at the University of Regina, is excited about the experiment and what it will mean for the post-secondary institute in the future. “It gives us exposure. Our name is right up there beside the (University of Toronto) and (University of B.C.). We are now known in CERN. (Previously it was) ‘Who ever heard of Regina, Saskatchewan?’ ” said Bergman. She said it’s important for the university to create an international profile so it’s able to recruit more international students. “From a university perspective our name is associated with some of the top universities in the world,” she explained, adding the university is now receiving international exposure because of the work of U of R professor Kamal Benslama and his research team. Bergman said the research project is good exposure for the province because it’s letting the world know about all the good things that are happening in the province. “We need to tell the stories and we need to sell ourselves and this is one way of doing that,” said Bergman.
Isobel Trigger, a Triumf research scientist and ATLAS Canada’s physics co-ordinator, has been involved in the project since 1999. She was also a CERN staff member and is well aware of the project from both sides. Trigger is excited about how close they are to achieving real data. “Computer simulations are nice and you can play with them. But there’s much more satisfaction seeing actual data. We’re really looking forward to next year when we’ll have beams in the machine,” explained Trigger. She has always had an interest in physics and enjoys being part of the world-wide experiment. Trigger is looking forward to analysing the data from the LHC detectors because she hopes it will provide answers about gravity, how mass is generated, and why the universe is made of matter and not anti-matter. “That should make the science simpler actually. If you have more of the pieces it’s easier to see the pictures in the puzzle,” said Trigger.