IIHE people





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 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.


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!


Here you see an event recorded by IceCube in January 2008, when the detector was still in construction!

At that time, 22 strings were already taking data and 18 other strings were freshly deployed. Every colored bubble indicates the detection of one or more Cerenkov photons created by the cross of a charged particle by one of the sensors deployed in the ice. The size of the circles reflects the intensity of the signal. The color indicates the arrival time from red (early) to blue (late). These informations combined with the geometry of the detector allow first guess reconstructions of the initial track.


Candidate top quark +W boson collision event at CERN

Shown is a candidate collision event from the 2010 LHC run that was selected in the search for one top quark associated with a W boson at the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment at CERN. IIHE scientists are leading the analysis effort in the detailed study of these kind of collisions. Understanding single top production is relevant both for the detailed understanding of the physics of top quark production but also in the context of the Standard Model Quantum Chromodynamics in general as this process is special because of the production of a single heavy quark in association with a gauge boson. This event topology is very similar to that expected for new physics or the elusive Higgs boson, for which this kind of events are a background.


First results from a realistic modeling of radio emission by particle cascades in ice

In the previous decade several new experiments (ANITA, NuMoon, ARA, ARIANNA) were proposed to detect high energy (>EeV) neutrino induced particle cascades in dense media such as ice, salt, and moon rock. At the highest energies, these neutrino's are extremely rare and a large detector volume is needed to detect them. Due to the long attenuation length, the detection of the produced radio signals is the most promising tool to search for these rare events. In light of these new experimental efforts, the EVA-code, originally constructed to model radio emission from cosmic-ray-induced air showers, is under development to model radio emission from particle cascades in the South-Pole ice. The ice geometry is included into the code, as well as a parameterized model for the particle cascade. Furthermore, the original EVA-code already incorporated Cherenkov effects in the emission for radio signals moving on curved paths due to a density gradient in the medium. The figure below shows a preliminary result for the electric field as seen by an observer positioned at the ice-air interface. The particle cascade starts at 330 meters depth traveling approximately 10 meters straight upward in the ice until it dies out. The pulses as seen by observers at different lateral distances ranging from 10 m to 300 m are shown. It is seen that the pulse becomes sharper moving outward toward the Cherenkov cone at a lateral distance of approximately 330 meters."


IIHE students at the South Pole

Falling off the earth is a serious risk at the South Pole. Down there, at the very end of the world, everything is different.. 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.


The needle in the haystack

Physicists working in the CMS experiment regularly have to spend their time searching for a needle in a haystack. In other words we look for the rarest of rare collisions that represent very unlikely physics processes. An example of work done at the IIHE is the search for the production of four top quarks (the needle) in the huge dataset recorded by CMS in 2012 (the haystack). Our results put an extremely tight limit on the production of four top quarks, indeed the tightest limit at the LHC so far. As four top quarks are also produced in many new theories of physics such as supersymmetry, this limit can tell us a lot about the validity of these theories.


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.

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