Science & Environment

LHC@home allows public to help hunt for Higgs particle

CERN computers
The effort will supplement Cern's own computers and an international scientific computing network

The Large Hadron Collider team will be tapping into the collective computing power of the public to help it simulate particle physics experiments.

Among other pursuits, the effort could help uncover the Higgs boson.

The effort, dubbed LHC@home 2.0, is a vastly updated version of a 2004 effort to enlist the public's computers to simulate beams of protons.

Advances in home computers now allow simulations of the enormously more complex particle collisions themselves.

The LHC facility is the world's most powerful "atom smasher", occupying an underground, 27km ring beneath the Swiss-French border.

"Volunteers can now actively help physicists in the search for new fundamental particles that will provide insights into the origin of our Universe, by contributing spare computing power from their personal computers and laptops," read a statement from Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Research which runs the LHC.

'Fundamental principles'

Along with the grandeur of the accelerator itself came an unprecedented computing infrastructure to handle the 15 million gigabytes of data produced at the LHC each year.

The Worldwide Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid is a 100m-euro network designed to handle the flood of data and distribute it to scientists worldwide.

The LHC@home project will complement this network by splitting up the gargantuan task of simulating the collisions, feeding those computer simulations back to the scientists for comparison.

"By looking for discrepancies between the simulations and the data, we are searching for any sign of disagreement between the current theories and the physical Universe," says the LHC@home 2.0 website.

"Ultimately, such a disagreement could lead us to the discovery of new phenomena, which may be associated with new fundamental principles of nature."

The project is just the latest in an increasingly long line of "citizen science" projects in which the power of the public's home computers is put to use in solving scientific problems; the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence and the fabulously complex process of protein folding are both subjects of such distributed computing projects.

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