SFU team poised for world's biggest physics experiment

March 20, 2008

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By Stuart Colcleugh

The last major component of the ATLAS particle detector at the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland was installed this month, in readiness for the biggest physics experiment in history to begin this summer.                                                                                   

And the news from CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) has SFU/TRIUMF physicist Michel Vetterli beaming.

Vetterli is the project leader for the ATLAS Canada Data Analysis Centre at TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics. The data centre is owned and operated by a consortium of nine universities.

Vetterli and his SFU team are heavily involved in computing for the ATLAS detector, which will search for new discoveries in the head-on collisions of extremely high-energy protons.

"We are all very excited to see so much effort coming to fruition," says Vetterli. "The discoveries we anticipate have the potential to revolutionize the way we understand nature at its most basic level."

The ATLAS experiment will probe the fundamental forces that have shaped our universe since the beginning of time and that will determine its fate. It could shed light on the origin of mass, extra dimensions of space, microscopic black holes and evidence for dark matter candidates in the universe.

As the computing coordinator for ATLAS Canada, Vetterli is responsible for coordinating the efforts to secure computing resources for analyzing the data, as well as producing the all-important experiment simulations—an integral part of physics analysis.

The ATLAS detector is about 45 metres long, more than 25 metres high and weighs about 7,000 tons. It’s about half as big as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and weighs the same as the Eiffel Tower or 100 empty 747 jets.

The start-up of the Large Hadron Collider and observations of the first proton-beam collisions will signal the start of real-time data distribution from ATLAS to 10 centres worldwide—including TRIUMF—all connected via high-speed networks that will compute the results.

For more information on ATLAS visit

For more on SFU’s contribution visit

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