Faculty conversations: Wade Fisher
Wade Fisher is trying to find one of the missing pieces to the puzzle of how people understand the universe — and he says that he and other researchers across the world may be closing in on the answer this summer.
"The research that I do is in elementary particle physics," he said. "The idea is that we use interactions amongst what we think are fundamental particles to study the laws of the universe. The way that we do that is we use what people frequently refer to as atom-smashers or what we call particle colliders."
Fisher, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, coordinates the Collider Detector at Fermilab and DZero teams at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Fermilab, which is located just outside of Chicago, is where beams of particles — usually protons or electrons — are collided at high energies.
"What we try to do is reproduce conditions that are close to the birth of the universe. So if you imagine turning the clock back to what we imagine might be the Big Bang," Fisher said. "We're basically looking at things that haven't existed for 12 billion years."
Fisher and a number of MSU professors are also involved in sifting through data produced at the only other particle collider in the world, the Large Hadron Collider, located near Geneva, Switzerland.
At both locations, physicists are trying to understand the laws of the universe by finding evidence to support — or fail to support — the long-standing Standard Model of particle physics.
"You either have a theory that really explains everything, or you've got some missing pieces," Fisher said. "And that's one of the things that I focus on is one of those missing pieces to the puzzle of how we understand the universe — and that's what we call the Higgs boson."
The Higgs boson is a theoretical particle that gives mass to matter. It is difficult to detect because it decays very quickly into more stable particles. At Fermilab, the detector snaps a photo of the particle collisions once every 356 nanoseconds for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
"Right now, it's like when you wake up on Christmas and there's a present under the tree," Fisher said. "You know there’s something in it, but you have no idea what it is, so you have to really study it some more, open it up and eventually you'll actually know what's in there.
"And that's really what our job is right now," he said. "We see evidence for something that shouldn't be there — if there is no Higgs boson — we don't know for sure what it is yet — but with some more studying, then we'll actually be able to unwrap this and kind of figure out what it is that we’re looking at."