Mathematics Professor’s prestigious £75K five-year Wolfson Research Merit Award

Professor Biagio Lucini, Head of the Department of Mathematics at Swansea University, has been awarded a £75K Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award to seek answers to what he describes as “one of the most puzzling questions surrounding modern particle physics”.

Prof Biagio LuciniProfessor Lucini (pictured), who is based within the University’s College of Science, begins a five-year project this month, which runs until August 2022, entitled ‘Monte Carlo Investigations of Sp(2N) Composite Higgs Models’.

The Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Awards, which are jointly funded by the Wolfson Foundation and The Royal Society, provides universities with additional support to enable them to recruit or retain respected scientists of outstanding achievement and potential to the UK. 

Professor Lucini’s project will involve the mathematical modelling of a physical theory that has been proposed to explain the existence of the Higgs boson, said to give matter its substance, or mass.

This research will be an integral part of the new Computational Foundry development at Swansea University’s Bay Campus, a £31M investment to develop a mathematical and computational beacon to perform world-transforming and impactful research attracting to Wales the best computational scientists and mathematicians.

In addition, the project will use the advanced computational facilities of Supercomputing Wales, a new £15M programme of investment that will enable Wales to compete globally for research and innovation that requires state-of-the-art computing facilities to simulate and solve complex scientific problems. 

Computational Foundry 3Both the Computational Foundry (pictured, artist's impression) and Supercomputing Wales are flagship projects of Swansea University, partly funded by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) through the European Regional Development Fund.

Outlining the background to the new project Professor Lucini said: “I have always found particle physics a very fascinating subject.

"Indeed this topic has stimulated my imagination at least since 1983, when, as an 11-year-old, I learned from the news about the discovery at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, of one of the most fundamental particles, the Z boson.

“This experience has influenced my entire academic career, including my current research on the recently unveiled Higgs boson, whose existence was theorised in the 60’s by Professor Peter Higgs, an honorary fellow of Swansea University, in one of the most spectacular triumphs of logic and intuition that resulted in the award of a Nobel Prize in 2013.

“The Higgs boson plays a crucial role in our world: it provides mass to the Z and to the related W particles through a mechanism known as electroweak symmetry breaking.

“Despite the experimental success of the Higgs mechanism, unanswered fundamental questions arise from this model. Among them is the problem of the mass hierarchy: experimental results have established that the Higgs boson mass is comparable to that of an iodine atom; however, the mathematical framework underpinning particle physics, quantum field theory (QFT), indicates a mass that is 17 orders of magnitude larger.

“The apparent contradiction between the measured value of the Higgs mass and what we believe it should be is one of the most puzzling questions surrounding modern particle physics.

“The solution of this problem will definitely result in a breakthrough in our understanding of interactions between elementary particles. Since other spectacular successes of QFT suggest us to take its predictions very seriously, it is believed that the Higgs model hides a more fundamental theory at higher energies.

“Various conjectures have been put forward concerning the underlying theory. Among the possibilities that have survived theoretical and experimental scrutiny, an appealing concept is provided by a phenomenon called compositeness.

“According to this framework, the Higgs boson is a bound state of elementary particles interacting via a novel strong force. An example of an interaction of this type is already present in nature: the strong force that holds nuclei together. This interaction is described by a theory called Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD).

“Comparing QCD with the requirements for the novel strong force, we deduce that the latter must have a very different nature, with some particles that are much lighter than the corresponding ones in QCD. Analytic arguments suggest that this could be achieved by modifying the mathematical structure of QCD.

“The result is a class of theories called Sp(2N) models. Robust studies of the new force require numerical calculations on state of the art supercomputers.

“The goals of this investigation are to determine whether the studied models have the anticipated properties and whether they are able to predict particles to be discovered by experiments such as those at the CERN Large Hadron Collider.

“A positive answer would be an extraordinary advance, but also a negative finding would give us invaluable information on new directions to follow to explain the puzzle of the light Higgs. In both cases, we will significantly advance our understanding of the inner laws that govern our world.

“This research, which I find fascinating also because it combines cooperatively physics, mathematics and computer science to find an answer to a key scientific question, is very timely, since only recently the necessary computer power to undertake the study has become available.”

For more information on the Wolfson Research Merit Awards visit https://royalsociety.org/grants-schemes-awards/grants/wolfson-research-merit/