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Sau Lan Wu: Going after the God Particle

[ photo: Sau Lan Wu ]

Going after the God Particle

After a decades-long search, physicists at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) near Geneva, Switzerland, set the physics world abuzz in 2012 with the discovery of the Higgs boson, popularly known as “the God particle.”  It was the last missing elementary particle of the 17 predicted by the Standard Model, the ruling physics theory for the last half-century. The Higgs is theorized to impart mass to matter.

Vassar alumna Sau Lan Wu ’63, leads the University of Wisconsin’s team at CERN. Her group of about 20 scientists is part of the Atlas collaboration, one of the two large collaborations at CERN that made the discovery. On the day of the announcement, Peter Higgs, the physicist for whom the particle is named, was present at the press conference. Professor Wu approached him and said, “I have been looking for you for over 20 years!”  He replied, “Now you have found me!”

Sixteen of the particles predicted by the Standard Model had been previously observed. Professor Wu, the Enrico Fermi Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin, played a key role in identifying two of them—the J particle, also known as the Charm quark, and the gluon. Along with three colleagues, Professor Wu won the European Physical Society High-Energy and Particle Physics Prize for the discovery of the gluon and was the first American to win that prize.

"A Search for the Weight of the Matter," by Tim Appenzeller, U.S. News & World Report, October 16, 2000

Photo credit: College Relations photo archive