July 14, 2022
selfie of assistant research professor Rachel Bartek and provost Aaron Dominguez at the Higgs boson 10th anniversary event

The Higgs boson particle — a discovery he considers “one of the great achievements of mankind” — has shaped the career of Catholic University Provost Aaron Dominguez.

In the 1990s, Dominguez wrote his graduate school dissertation on the search for the Higgs boson and on July 4, 2012, his team discovered the particle — first proposed by Dr. Peter Higgs and other physicists in 1967 — through collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle accelerator. 

The 2012 discovery “was a monumental milestone in particle physics” that marked the start of a new era of research, said Fabiola Gianotti, director-general of CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in a recent press release. The LHC is located in Switzerland at CERN.

Dominguez and other Catholic University researchers continue to play significant roles in research related to the Higgs boson. He said, “I was part of the original construction project of the pixel detector for the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment (CMS) at the LHC, as well as its first upgrade. Now our group at Catholic is part of the next generation upgrade of the pixel detector at CMS.”

In fact, Catholic University Assistant Research Professor Rachel Bartek has been on site at the LHC, and helped prepare it for a July 5, 2022, relaunch after major upgrades were made to allow significantly more precise and larger data collection than ever before. 

As a graduate student in 2007, Bartek said, “I was physically crawling up and down the five stories of the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) detector installing low voltage cables for one of its many subsystems. I was part of a small team, around 50 physicists, who developed the HZZ analysis — one of the channels that contributed to the Higgs boson discovery. It was indescribable to see the detector I helped to build discover this long-sought-for particle on July 4, 2012.”

In 2020, an online article noted that Dominguez and Bartek had been authors on all 1,000 research papers published through the CMS collaboration by that time and had received a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to build the next generation of particle detectors for CMS, with Catholic University graduate students working as part of the group.

“I feel so fortunate to be at a great Catholic research university like CatholicU, where these kinds of fundamental discoveries of God’s creation can be made,” said Dominguez in 2020.

As he headed to Switzerland for tenth anniversary observances, he sent an email saying, “More than just a technical accomplishment, the discovery was an accomplishment of our better nature, which required the peaceful cooperation of thousands of people from around the world, and took decades to achieve. No one person could have done it; no one nation could have done it. We have all decided to work together on a great common goal which is good: understanding creation at its most exquisite and fundamental level.”