STMicroelectronics' modest contributions to the search for the Higgs boson and, with it, the origins of our universe illustrates how technology companies can expand human knowledge while delivering useful products.
Among nature’s tiniest and shortest-lived particles, the Higgs Boson has fame and influence extending far beyond its physical attributes. The search for this particle has brought together huge numbers of talented scientists and engineers from around the world, not to mention enormous technical resources. But the result is greater than the sum of the parts. If the results hold up to scientific scrutiny, we’ll be in position to take a big step forward in understanding how matter came into being after the Big Bang – the start time of the universe.
STMicroelectronics had the privilege of supporting the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s (CERN) quest to find this elusive particle supporting the Standard Model of particle physics over much of the last decade. We have supplied silicon sensors used in the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) to detect sub-atomic particles produced by the Large Hadron Collider, and later helped to develop special radiation-hardened voltage regulators for front-end electronics and power subsystems in the ATLAS detector.
It is true that our contribution to finding the Higgs boson has been relatively small with respect to the overall project. After all, ATLAS is one of the largest collaborative efforts ever attempted in the physical sciences, involving some 1,800 physicists from more than 150 universities and laboratories in 35 countries. We were in a position to contribute because we had the expertise and processes to build the devices the project required. Creating the CMS sensors required tightly controlled wafer production capabilities to produce a silicon element around 100 times larger than conventional semiconductor chips. Our work with the ATLAS team produced voltage regulators that simply had not existed before.
Protons collide in the CMS detector, forming Z bosons
which decay into electrons (green lines) and muons (red). Such an event is
compatible with the decay of a Standard Model Higgs boson (Source: CERN)