How the ATLAS group of UMass Amherst leads th

(lr) Stéphane Willocq, Verena Martinez Outschoorn and Rafael Coelho Lopes de Sa.

Image: (lr) Stephane Willocq, Verena Martinez Outschoorn and Rafael Coelho Lopes de Sa.
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Photo credit: UMass Amherst

December 8, 2022

AMHERST, Massachusetts – There’s the universe we know made up of atoms and molecules, and another, more mysterious universe made up of things like the Higgs boson, the top quark, and other subatomic particles that have only been found in laboratories were observed. These particles only live for a fraction of a second, but without them the universe as we know it could not exist. A team of physicists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is playing a critical role in the study of such subatomic particles, providing everything from leadership to next-generation computers and graduate education through more than $5 million in new research grants.

The team is part of the ATLAS experiment, an international collaboration of more than 5,500 physicists, engineers and students using the 17-mile Large Hadron Collider (LHC) on the border of France and Switzerland to study the physics of subatomic particles . The LHC works by shooting two beams of particles at each other. As each of the beams travels at nearly the speed of light, the particles collide with phenomenal energy, creating new subatomic particles recorded by the ATLAS experiment. “It’s all sort of a microscope that allows us to see the smallest, most fundamental parts of matter,” says Stephane Willocq, professor of physics at UMass Amherst and newly appointed deputy spokesman for ATLAS.

ATLAS’ goal is to answer some of the universe’s biggest unanswered questions: What are the basic building blocks of matter? What are the basic forces of nature? What is dark matter made of? Willocq notes that it was ATLAS who first discovered the mysterious Higgs boson – the particle that gives mass to everything else in the universe. “And maybe it’s the Higgs boson that will serve as a portal to the new particles like dark matter,” Willocq continues.

The engineering behind the Large Hadron Collider and ATLAS detector is impressive, as is the software and computers required to process the data collected by the experiment. Martinez Outschoorn was recently appointed as the new assistant manager for ATLAS-related software and computations and R&D for the 40 US institutions contributing to the ATLAS project to help accomplish critical computing tasks.

UMass awards four grants for further computing, software and high energy physics

Unfortunately, the training available to effectively use the advanced digital tools required for a project like ATLAS has lagged behind technological advances. To fill this education gap, Willocq, along with his UMass Amherst physics colleagues, Verena Martinez Outschoorn and Rafael Coelho Lopes de Sa, were recently awarded a grant by the Department of Energy (DOE) to modernize education at the meeting point between high-energy physics, software, and computer science.

These efforts include the development of a cutting-edge new curriculum that will enable graduate students to master the rapidly evolving software and computing techniques required for projects like ATLAS. “Graduates of this training program at UMass Amherst receive a unique education that includes both particle physics and computer science,” says Coelho Lopes de Sa about the new training program.

In a separate DOE grant, Willocq, Martinez Outschoorn, and Coelho Lopes de Sa will research the development of artificial intelligence methods in flexible electronic chips called Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA). These FPGAs will be used in the ATLAS detector to help identify new subatomic particles created in the LHC collisions. These new subatomic particles could contain the long-sought dark matter.

The software and computers used by the ATLAS experiment must be constantly upgraded to meet the challenges of the ever-growing data set being collected at the LHC. Coelho Lopes de Sa and Martinez Outschoorn have been awarded a new grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish collaborations between institutions in the US and India to develop new software algorithms and computational approaches required in particle physics. The award is part of the NSF AccelNet program, which aims to accelerate the process of scientific discovery and prepare the next generation of US researchers for international, multi-team collaborations.

Finally, Coelho Lopes de Sa and Martinez Outschoorn received another NSF grant to build a new high-performance computing cluster at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC). This new computing cluster will have 10,000 CPUs and will be one of the largest computing systems at UMass Amherst. The new cluster will be part of the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid and will bring several benefits to the campus, including improving network connectivity to other research universities and national laboratories across the United States. The cluster is expected to operate until the end of the ATLAS experiment. in the 2040s.

“These four new awards will allow UMass Amherst to play a leading role at the intersection of experimental particle physics and computer science in areas such as artificial intelligence and high-performance computing. The new collaborations that these projects bring with them will significantly improve the national and international profile of our research,” says Martinez Outschoorn.

Contacts: Verena Martinez Outschoorn, [email protected]

Daegan Miller, [email protected]

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