Mysteries of the Universe

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Our modern understanding of the universe includes a creation event about 13.8 billion years ago and the identification of some ultimate building blocks, called quarks and leptons. Combined with the four known forces (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces), we can explain the behavior of familiar matter over a vast range of scales from a trillionth of a second after the universe began to our present time, nearly 14 billion years later.

This course will cover all of these topics and more. Students will learn about: the modern theory of matter (called the Standard Model), both the prediction and the discovery of the Higgs boson, new theories that scientists are exploring right now, how particle accelerators and detectors work, dark matter and energy, and what particle physics teaches us about how the universe began.  In short, the class is the study of nothing, everything and all the stuff in between.

Course Objectives

  • To gain historical perspective on how scientists have come to our current understanding of the nature of matter and rules that govern it.
  • To learn about the Higgs boson: what it is, how it was found and why it is important
  • To gain a broad understanding about what sorts of questions can be explored in the next decade using particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider.
  • To survey the technologies behind the particle accelerators and the detectors that allow scientists to record collisions between particles traveling at nearly the speed of light.
  • To explore the topics of dark matter and dark energy and see the deep connections between modern cosmology and the topics studied by particle physicists.

Meet the Instructor

Don Lincoln, PhD
Senior Scientist
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

Module 1: The Standard Model

  • Review the history of particle physics, from the discovery of the electron (1895) through the discovery of the tau neutrino (2000)
  • Learn some of the vocabulary: for example (fermions vs. bosons), (quarks vs. leptons), and (baryons vs. mesons)
  • Understand the four known forces and the degree to which we understand them
  • Achieve a basic understanding of Feynman diagrams and why they are useful

Module 2: The Higgs boson

  • Learn the history of the prediction of the Higgs boson
  • Understand what the Higgs field is and what the Higgs boson is and how they are related
  • Explore a few analogies that help clarify the Higgs field/boson
  • Describe how we found the Higgs boson
  • Explain what we know at the moment and list prospects for the future.

Module 3: Current mysteries

  • Understand that the low observed mass of the Higgs boson is unnatural and that new physical phenomena are needed to explain it
  • Be introduced to the principle of supersymmetry and see why it is popular among theorists
  • Understand why scientists are so concerned that we observe no antimatter in the universe
  • Explore the idea that quarks and leptons might not be the smallest objects possible

Module 4: Accelerators and detectors

  • Understand electric and magnetic fields and how they are used to form modern particle accelerators
  • Learn about the pros and cons of linear vs. circular particle accelerators and whether a beam of particles is collided into a stationary target or whether two beams are collided head on
  • Be introduced briefly to the Large Hadron Collider accelerator
  • Receive an introduction into the key technologies used in particle detectors
  • Learn about the detectors at the Large Hadron Collider

Module 5: Dark matter, dark energy and the cosmos

  • Understand what data suggests that dark matter must exist
  • Learn about the discoveries that have led astronomers to postulate dark energy
  • Realize that the matter with which we are most familiar makes up about 5% of the universe
  • Explore what the theory of the Big Bang really means and how particle colliders are teaching us of the creation of the universe


Dates & Times

March 2 - 13, 2015

Interactive Lectures:
Available before start date

Live Q&A Session Dates:
March 3, 5, 9, 11, 13

Live Q&A Session Time:
1:00 - 1:30 PM, EST

Wed, February 25, 5:00 PM, EST






0.5 CEUs from IEEE

Technical Requirements

View technical requirements

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