IIHE - Interuniversity Institute for High Energies (ULB-VUB)The IIHE was created in 1972 at the initiative of the academic authorities of both the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
Its main topic of research is the physics of elementary particles.
The present research programme is based on the extensive use of the high energy particle accelerators and experimental facilities at CERN (Switzerland) and DESY (Germany) as well as on non-accelerator experiments at the South Pole.
The main goal of this experiments is the study of the strong, electromagnetic and weak interactions of the most elementary building blocks of matter. All these experiments are performed in the framework of large international collaborations and have led to important R&D activities and/or applications concerning particle detectors and computing and networking systems.
Research at the IIHE is mainly funded by Belgian national and regional agencies, in particular the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) en het Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (FWO) and by both universities through their Research Councils.
The IIHE includes 19 members of the permanent scientific staff, 20 postdocs and guests, 31 doctoral students, 8 masters students, and 15 engineering, computing and administrative professionals.
IceCube results challenge current understanding of Gamma Ray Bursts
Favoured candidates for the emission of Ultra High-Energy Cosmic Rays are Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) and Gamma Ray Bursts (GRB), both spectacular emitters of high-energy gamma rays arising from particle acceleration in relativistic jets. However, the composition of the particles involved in these processes as well as the acceleration mechanism are very uncertain. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole is honing in on how the most energetic cosmic rays might be produced. IceCube is performing a search for cosmic high-energy neutrinos, which are believed to accompany cosmic ray production, and as such explores the possible sources for cosmic ray production. In a paper published in the 2012 April 19 issue of the journal Nature (Volume 484, Number 7394), the IceCube collaboration describes a search for neutrino emission related to 300 gamma ray bursts observed between May 2008 and April 2010 by the SWIFT and Fermi satellites. Surprisingly, no related neutrino events were found - a result that contradicts 15 years of predictions and challenges most of the leading models for the origin of the highest energy cosmic rays, as shown in the figure.
Astroparticle Physics revolves around phenomena that involve (astro)physics under the most extreme conditions.
Cosmic explosions, involving black holes with masses a billion times greater than the mass of the Sun, accelerate particles to velocities close to the speed of light and display a variety of relativistic effects. The produced high-energy particles may be detected on Earth and as such can provide us insight in the physical processes underlying these cataclysmic events. Having no electrical charge and interacting only weakly with matter, neutrinos are special astronomical messengers. Only they can carry information from violent cosmological events at the edge of the observable universe directly towards the Earth. At the Inter-university Institute for High Energies (IIHE) in Brussels we are involved in a world wide effort to search for high-energy neutrinos originating from cosmic phenomena. For this we use the IceCube neutrino observatory at the South Pole, the world's largest neutrino telescope which is now completed and taking data.
Pinning down the bottom, charm and top quark
The bottom quark, discovered in 1977, is special, as in LHC collisions it usually lives in unstable particles that travel a few millimeters before they transition into particles that physicists can identify with our very accurate tracking detectors. At the IIHE we are leading the effort in the CMS experiment to identify bottom (or beauty) quarks. Bottom quarks are also extremely useful to identify top quarks, the heaviest known elementary particle, and Brout-Englert-Higgs bosons. At the IIHE we are also developing the tools to distinguish collisions containing bottom quarks from those where charm quarks are produced. This will be extremely useful to study how often top quarks decay to charm quarks instead of b-quarks, a very rare process in the Standard Model that if larger than expected would be a convincing sign for new physics!
Shown here is a result of the 2012 LHC run at the Compact Muon Solenoid,
studying the invariant mass of electron pairs produced at the Large Hadron Collider. Shown is the data, as black dots, and the simulation predicting what we should expect according to the particle physics Standard Model (coloured bands). The IIHE is actively involved in the study of this kind of collisions, in collaboration with other groups of the CMS experiment. The data points agree very well with the predictions from the Standard Model, which means that up to now no new physics beyond the Standard Model could be observed that produces electron pairs. This could change when the LHC runs at a higher collision energy in 2015 and the high mass region to the right of the spectrum can be explored. New physics could show up as a peak in the high mass region of the spectrum, and could look like a small version of the peak of the Z boson that can be seen at a mass of about 90 GeV.
South Pole tuning in on "Skyradio"
The Askaryan Radio Array (ARA) is one of the future South Pole neutrino observatories focusing on the detection of neutrinos with energies beyond 10^17 eV. It utilizes radio waves, emitted from neutrino induced cascades in the South Pole ice sheet, to detect neutrino interactions. The detector is currently in the construction phase as is shown in the picture below. A grid of 37 antenna clusters, spaced by 2 km, is planned to be deployed in the South Pole ice at a depth of 200 m. By this, the full ARA detector will cover an instrumented area of about 100 km^2 and represent a state of the art detector for cosmic neutrinos in the energy range between 10^17 eV and 10^19 eV.
The IceCube neutrino observatory at the South Pole is the world's largest neutrino telescope, completed in 2011 and taking data since 2005!
The detector is composed of 80 strings of 60 sensors deployed in the Antarctic glacier, between 1500 and 2500 m of depth. As its name suggests, IceCube covers an instrumented volume of one cubic kilometer. The DeepCore extension of IceCube is composed of 6 additional string in the center of the IceCube array, where the puriest ice can be found. At the surface, the IceTop air shower array equiped each IceCube string with 2 pairs of sensors in an ice tank of 3 square-meter.
Looking in usually ignored collisions for physics beyond the Standard Model
It is commonly agreed that the standard model is not the ultimate theory and breaks down at higher energies. One of its most famous extensions is called supersymmetry or SUSY. Even though the CERN LHC data is already extensively examined for signatures predicted by this theory, no evidence has been found. However, supersymmetric models in which particles would have large lifetime (so would seem not to come from the collision point), have been mostly overlooked until now. IIHE physicists have performed a search that focuses on checking the LHC data for evidence of such a model. The picture depicts the transverse view of the CMS interaction point, showing a typical event from one of the possible signal with long life time. The definition of the leptons' impact parameter, d0, which is largely correlated with to the particle lifetime, is shown by the arrows.
IceCube observes first hint of astrophysical high-energy neutrinos
Two neutrino candidate events detected at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, dubbed "Bert and Ernie", are the two highest energy neutrinos ever observed so far, with an estimated deposited energy of about 1 PeV. The IceCube event displays of these two events are shown in the figures below, where for comparison one should realize that a single event covers an area comparable with the Maracana football stadium in Rio de Janeiro! The probability that these two events are not background, i.e. anything else in the detector besides astrophysical neutrinos, is at the 2.8 sigma level and does not allow claiming a first observation of astrophysical neutrinos. Further details may be found in Physical Review Letters 111 (2013) 081801. To improve the detection sensitivity, a follow-up search on the same data period has been conducted. The new analysis selects high-energy neutrino events with vertices well contained in the detector volume and exploits veto algorithms by using the outer layers of IceCube sensors. By means of this new analysis method 26 new events have been detected. The entire sample of 28 events has properties consistent in flavour, arrival direction and energy with generic expectations for neutrinos of extraterrestrial origin.
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