Petascale Distributed Computing for Terascale Physics
Award year: 2008-2009
Our understanding of the Universe and the basic constituents of matter has evolved drastically since the ancients pondered questions about what is fundamental in the world around them. Modern physics tells a story of an unimaginably vast Universe where the fabric of space and time itself is dynamic and driven by energy that can change into matter and visa versa. It contains particles of matter and energy that have been studied extensively in laboratories on Earth but only make up a small (~5%) fraction of the known Universe! The rest is comprised of mysterious dark matter that can only be seen through its gravitational influence and even more mysterious dark energy that drives an accelerating Universe. Despite much deeper understanding of Nature since ancient times, we are left with many unanswered questions about space-time and the fundamental constituents of matter and their interactions. Particle physics is about to embark on a unique, and possibly defining, period in its distinguished history with the start of particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland later this year (2008). At the LHC, bunches protons are accelerated in opposite directions around a ring 8.6 km in diameter and focused to collide with 14 trillion-electron-volts (TeV) of center of mass energy. For the first time in history, physicists will be able to directly probe the TeV energy scale the “Terascale” to which it is often referred -- where it is widely believed that new physics with potential to revolutionize our understanding of the Universe should be lurking, although we can only speculate about what form this will take. The LHC program, with five planned experiments and the accelerator itself, represents a genuinely international scientific endeavor on a scale unprecedented in the history of science.