Particle spotter

As part of a series, the Canada Foundation for Innovation created five profiles on researchers who unlock the power of big data.
By Sharon Oosthoek

RedaReda Tafirout, TRIUMF
The holy grail of particle physics, the Higgs boson, was discovered in 2012.  But there is still much to be learned by smashing protons together at high energies in the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider in Meyrin, Switzerland.

Finding the Higgs boson gave physicists more certainty that the Standard Model is correct. The model is a mathematical framework used to describe the fundamental nature of matter and the forces that shape our universe. Because the Higgs boson was the last particle in the model to be found, its discovery made headlines around the world.

The next phase involves fine tuning scientists’ understanding of the particle and searching for new phenomena, such as dark matter. TRIUMF particle physicist Reda Tafirout says that this means doubling the energy in the collider and producing more Higgs boson samples to refine their measurements.

“The Standard Model makes very precise predictions, so if we have any measurement that is not fully compatible with it — a new interaction or a new force that hasn’t been discovered — we want to know,” he says.

But with a staggering number of protons smashing together at the same time, it’s hard to single out which collisions might be relevant, which is why scientists rely on high-performance computers.

“It selects the collisions that lead to interactions that give some insight,” says Tafirout.

Find more stories of research in action on, the website of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, where these podcasts originally appeared.

About the series

The incredible power of high performance computing to unlock massive data sets in order to answer an impressive range of research questions is a hallmark of computing in the present era. Research today is increasingly driven by massive digitization initiatives, high-throughput devices, sensor platforms and computational modelling and simulation, all of which generate data that are unprecedented in size and complexity. Here are five Canadian researchers whose work relies on advanced computing capabilities.

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