DIY particle physics. You.
The most exciting thing that can happen to a geek has apparently been out there for some 2 years without my knowledge. So I’m making up for lost time.
Higgs Hunters is a project enlisting volunteers from the general public (or an admittedly niche subset thereof) to tag Large Hadron Collider images of particle collisions, in the hopes of identifying a previously unobserved particle. One Higgs down, whole unknown universe to go.
The LHC collides protons at ridiculous speeds, and records what follows – which is the production of some new particles, including occasionally a shy Higgs boson, finally discovered in 2012. But the Higgs doesn’t hang about before it splinters into further particles, making it very difficult to gather any data.
The theory goes that some such particles may be exotic and charge-less, and are not detectable by our instruments. But those exotic undetected particles may further decay into charged, detectable particles.. and this is where you come in.
You’re asked to view images of particle decay trails, and identify off-centre vertices (sprays of particle trails that begin away from the central collision, suggesting they emanate from a particle that was undetected when it first left the centre), which the computer may not have spotted when it reviewed the same data.
The theory being that the human eye/mind are better at grasping certain things than even the most sophisticated algorithm. To prove the point, there is also a “something weird” tag, for when things just look… interesting.
You want to look at the tutorials and bottom-of-screen guides for guidance on what to look for (clusters of lines starting at an off-centre point), and advice on e.g. ignoring random solitary white lines. Some more useful info is found on the limited Higgs Hunters blog.
Granted, the comments on each image indicate that many taggers will be physicists well able to identify a stray muon at a glance. But it isn’t necessary, and it isn’t the bulk data they’re after – so have a look, and click away. Into the building blocks of the universe.