The Fairfield University Physics Department had a role in the Compact Muon Solenoid world-wide project being tested at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday, Sept. 10

On Wednesday, Sept. 10, Dr. David Winn, chair of the Physics Department at Fairfield University, will get a sense of whether the last 15 years he has dedicated to the CERN project in Geneva, Switzerland, will pay big dividends to the world of science. The long anticipated Large Hadron Collider (LHC), part of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Experiment detector, will be set in motion for the first time in an attempt to recreate the energy density 0.01 nanoseconds after the "Big Bang." It is an experiment that could yield important scientific data and is the culmination of the work of approximately 2,300 international collaborators from 40 countries.

In the experiment, two counter-rotating beams of high energy protons are collided in a 27 kilometer circumference LHC tunnel, located 100 meters below ground, in an area that straddles the frontier between France and Switzerland. It is this collision that is expected to recreate the energy density of the Big Bang, with temperatures reaching about one million billion times body temperature.

It is, Dr. Winn says, "in a sense a time machine to look back to the earliest moments of creation, and to be able to explain the present state of the universe and to predict its fate." What is happening, he explains, is the reverse of an atom bomb, where matter is converted to energy. Here, he says, "Energy is spontaneously converted into new matter in a billion-billionth of a second, and thousands of new particles are created, some of which may last to the end of time."

Dr. Winn was responsible for inventing and designing a prototype for a section of the CMS called a "quartz fiber calorimeter," which measures the energy particles that emerge from the collision. Over the years, he and 23 students, past and current, called the Fairfield High Energy Group, have worked at CERN and in the laboratories in the Bannow Science Building on campus, in sub-collaboration with some 2,000 physicists from the University of Iowa, Texas Tech, Boston University, Fermilab, Turkey, Iran, Russia and Hungary.

One of those students, Chris Sanzeni, class of 1995, began working in the High Energy Physics Program at Fairfield when it was part of the Superconducting Super Collider project in Texas which was eventually cancelled by Congress. The group was then invited to take part in the CMS consortium and so they took their research to that project.

Among Chris' memories of working on the research was the intensity with which the students attacked the project, working in three shifts around the clock to test proto types. "It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot about high speed data acquisition, calibration and electronics," he says. Public Safety officers would stop by during the night to check in on them, he said.

"I learned about high energy physics and particle physics" and it was exciting, he said, "to be part of a world-wide project." It also brought him to the Brook Haven Laboratory where he was delighted when a professor there told Dr. Winn his "grad students are really great, really impressive." Of course Dr. Winn quickly explained, these impressive students were still undergraduates.

Chris, who now is a team leader for Goodrich Corp., with 10 technicians and five engineers reporting to him, says "I could not have asked for a better research experience. Being able to bring that hands-on experience to the work world was huge."

He has kept up his friendship with his former professor.  "He's a genius, too smart for his own good," he says with a smile. "It was a lot of fun to work with him on the high energy team. It's nice that he is getting some recognition."

For his part, Dr. Winn looks forward to what the experiment at CERN reveals. "From shedding light on dark matter to searching for extra dimensions of space, experiments at the LHC promise to unlock some of the deepest mysteries of the universe," he says.

"This is a very exciting time for physics. The LHC and the CMS experiment are poised to take humanity to a new level of understanding of our universe. This collective global effort, paid for by the citizens of the world, is a triumph of international, ethnic and interpersonal cooperation. It is also a signature of the human spirit to explore and marvel at the beauty and the evolution of the universe."

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647,

Posted on September 8, 2008

Vol. 41, No. 47