Prof. Ashutosh Kotwal has been named co-leader of one of the international research groups on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, along with Fabienne Ledroit of France. The group Kotwal is co-leading consists of about 80 scientists who are using ATLAS to look for evidence of new “boson” particles, whose existence would indicate new forces. The ATLAS experiment is one of the four main experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland. Altogether, about 2,500 physicists are working on ATLAS, which has been running up to speed since about March of last year.
“Theories attempting to unify the known forces always predict additional forces, which would be mediated by new bosons,” Kotwal says. “So we are looking for some of these additional forces and their associated bosons.” In particular, the group is looking for bosons that decay to lepton particles, such as electrons and muons. The group hopes to publish a paper on their initial findings within the next month or so. While Kotwal can’t divulge the contents of the paper, he says, “It won’t be boring—I can guarantee that.” As a group leader, Kotwal is responsible for coordinating the work of the scientists on the team, making sure all tasks are getting done, mediating disputes, helping students and young scientists, and getting the paper written, reviewed and published. He says his work involves a lot of emails, phone calls and Skyping, and he will be going to CERN every three months or so during the coming year. He enjoys the people part of the job as much as the physics part. “So many physicists have to work together,” he says. “There’s something nice about it. You get to make friends all over the world.” After years of anticipation, it’s an exciting time in physics now that the LHC is up and running: a long-planned experiment is finally generating data that can be analyzed to answer questions posed by theorists years ago. But Kotwal says he enjoys all the parts of the long cycle from theory to experiment. If he and his colleagues discover new forces, then one can ask what other particles and forces might exist. “That starts the whole cycle again,” he says. “You can be very happy in all phases of the experiment. I’m analyzing the data but I’m already thinking of how you can rebuild the experiment for ten years from now to make more precise studies of the things we’re about to find.” He’s already applied for a grant to design new electronics that will be necessary for the next generation of experiments.