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Particle remains a key to unlocking new physics

Today marks a decade since the landmark Higgs boson discovery was announced. Durham University’s Dr Martin Bauer and Dr Stephen Jones look at what this has meant for particle physics.

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A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

Ten years ago, scientists announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, which helps explain why elementary particles (the smallest building blocks of nature) have mass.

For particle physicists, this was the end of a decades-long and hugely difficult journey – and arguably the most important result in the history of the field. But this end also marked the beginning of a new era of experimental physics.

In the past decade, measurements of the properties of the Higgs boson have confirmed the predictions of the standard model of particle physics (our best theory for particles). But it has also raised questions about the limitations of this model, such as whether there’s a more fundamental theory of nature.

Physicist Peter Higgs predicted the Higgs boson in a series of papers between 1964 and 1966, as an inevitable consequence of the mechanism responsible for giving elementary particles mass.

This theory suggests particle masses are a consequence of elementary particles interacting with a field, dubbed the Higgs field. And according to the same model, such a field should also give rise to a Higgs particle – meaning if the Higgs boson wasn’t there, this would ultimately falsify the entire theory.

But it soon became clear that discovering this particle would be challenging. When three theoretical physicists calculated the properties of a Higgs boson, they concluded with an apology.

“We apologise to experimentalists for having no idea what is the mass of the Higgs boson … and for not being sure of its couplings to other particles … For these reasons, we do not want to encourage big experimental searches for the Higgs boson.”

Peter Higgs stands in a hard hat at a CERN facility.

Peter Higgs. Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN

It took until 1989 for the first experiment with a serious chance of discovering the Higgs boson to begin its search. The idea was to smash particles together with such high energy that a Higgs particle could be created in a 27km long tunnel at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland – the largest electron-positron (a positron is almost identical to an electron but has opposite charge) collider ever built.

It ran for 11 years, but its maximum energy turned out to be just 5pc too low to produce the Higgs boson.

Meanwhile, the most ambitious American collider in history, the Tevatron, had started taking data at Fermilab, close to Chicago. The Tevatron collided protons (which, along with neutrons, make up the atomic nucleus) and antiprotons (nearly identical to protons but with opposite charge) with an energy five times higher than what was achieved in Geneva – surely, enough to make the Higgs.

But proton-antiproton collisions produce a lot of debris, making it much harder to extract the signal from the data. In 2011, the Tevatron ceased operations – the Higgs boson escaped detection again.

In 2010, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) began colliding protons with seven times more energy than the Tevatron. Finally, on 4 July 2012, two independent experiments at CERN had each collected enough data to declare the discovery of the Higgs boson. In the following year, Higgs and his collaborator François Englert won the Nobel Prize “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles”.

This almost sells it short. Without the Higgs boson, the whole theoretical framework describing particle physics at its smallest scales breaks apart. Elementary particles would be massless, there would be no atoms, no humans, no solar systems and no structure in the universe.

Trouble on the horizon

Yet the discovery has raised new, fundamental questions. Experiments at CERN have continued to probe the Higgs boson.

Its properties not only determine the masses of elementary particles, but also how stable they are. As it stands, the results indicate that our universe isn’t in a perfectly stable state. Instead, similar to ice at the melting point, the universe could suddenly undergo a rapid “phase transition”. But rather than going from a solid to a liquid, like ice transitioning to water, this would involve crucially changing the masses – and the laws of nature in the universe.

The fact that the universe nevertheless seems stable suggests something might be missing in the calculations – something we have not discovered yet.

After a three-year hiatus for maintenance and upgrades, collisions at the LHC are now about to resume at an unprecedented energy, nearly double that used to detect the Higgs boson. This could help find missing particles that move our universe away from the apparent knife-edge between being stable and rapidly undergoing a phase transition.

The Large Hadron Collider at the CERN facility near Geneva, Switzerland.

The LHC tunnel at point 1. Image: CERN

The experiment could help answer other questions, too. Could the unique properties of the Higgs boson make it a portal to discovering dark matter, the invisible substance making up most of the matter in the universe? Dark matter is not charged. And the Higgs boson has a unique way of interacting with uncharged matter.

The same unique properties have made physicists question whether the Higgs boson might not be a fundamental particle after all. Could there be a new, unknown force beyond the other forces of nature – gravity, electromagnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces? Perhaps a force that binds so far unknown particles into a composite object we call the Higgs boson?

Such theories may help to address the controversial results of recent measurements that suggest some particles do not behave exactly the way the standard model suggests they should. So studying the Higgs boson is vital to working out whether there is physics to be discovered beyond the standard model.

Eventually, the LHC will run into the same problem as the Tevatron did. Proton collisions are messy and the energy of its collisions will only reach so far. Even though we have the full arsenal of modern particle physics – including sophisticated detectors, advanced detection methods and machine learning – at our disposal, there is a limit to what the LHC can achieve.

A future high-energy collider, specifically designed to produce Higgs bosons, would enable us to precisely measure its most important properties, including how the Higgs boson interacts with other Higgs bosons. This in turn would determine how the Higgs boson interacts with its own field.

Studying this interaction could therefore help us probe the underlying process which gives particles masses. Any disagreement between the theoretical prediction and a future measurement would be a crystal-clear sign that we need to invent brand new physics.

These measurements will have a profound impact that reaches far beyond collider physics, guiding or constraining our understanding of the origin of dark matter, the birth of our universe – and, perhaps, its ultimate fate.

The Conversation
By Dr Martin Bauer and Dr Stephen Jones

Dr Martin Bauer is associate professor of physics at Durham University, while Dr Stephen Jones is assistant professor of physics at the university.

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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