Witsies celebrate 2013 Nobel Prize

Prof Bruce Mellado from the High Energy Physics group at Wits displays the processing unit the group is building for a new super computer. Photo: Mia Swart

Prof Bruce Mellado who is one of the lead physicists with HEP, a project at Wits University that contributes to the Atlas project. Photo: Mia Swart

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded today to physicists François Englert, 80 (Belgium) and Peter Higgs, 84 (Britain), “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles.”

Known as the Higgs Boson particle, the work of these two physicists was confirmed by discoveries made during the Atlas experiment at CERN’sLarge Hadron Collider.

Wits University is today celebrating the achievement of the Nobel Prize as a team of Witsies are regular and significant contributors to the Atlas project.

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, Professor Bruce Mellado said: “It’s an accolade for everyone involved and it’s great that a few strong people in South Africa had contributed.

Together with Dr Trevor Vickey and Dr Oana Boeriu, Mellado leads a team of Wits staff, students and post-doctoral scholars at the High Energy Physics Group (HEP), in the School of Physics who directly contribute to the work associated with the Nobel Prize winners.

Mellado said that it’s good that the theorists who proposed the mechanism received the Nobel Prize and that the scientific community acknowledged the greatness of the discovery.

“In the end we want to have South Africa make a strong contribution to future accelerators and experiments to explore the Higgs Boson.”

Higgs and Englert share the prize money of 8m Swedish kronor (about R12,5 million) for their theoretical discovery made almost 50 years ago.

Earlier today Wits University released a statement indicating that the lead physicists were available for comment:

Dr Trevor Vickey at trevor.vickey@cern.ch or on 27 11 717 6884 or 072 966 0617

Professor Bruce Mellado on bmellado@cern.ch on 27 11 717 6889 or 061 303 2579

Dr Oana Boeriu on oana.boeriu@cern.ch on 27 11 717 6885 or 072 971 6333



Witsies contribute to Atlas project

Prof Bruce Mellado from the High Energy Physics group at Wits displays the processing unit the group is building for a new super computer. Photo: Mia Swart

Prof Bruce Mellado from the High Energy Physics group at Wits displays the processing unit the group is building for a new super computer. Photo: Mia Swart

A Witsie’s design of a high voltage board for the European Organisation of Nuclear Research (CERN) is just one part of a number of international projects that Wits scientists are currently part of.PhD candidate Robert Reed designed and built the prototype of the board for the mobile MobiDICK system that checks the integrity of the Atlas detector. The board was the first piece of hardware for CERN designed in South Africa.

The High Energy Physics Group (HEP)at Wits are working on a wide range of projects with different sciences to revamp the scientific ground, said Prof Bruce Mellado, a member of the HEP.  And Wits is not only planning to contribute to science but to help South Africa manufacture technologies to boost the economy over the long term.

HEP was started in 2010 because Wits wanted to participate in CERN.

“Our contribution was thought of as something we had to do,” said Mellado.

Thirteen Wits students are currently working alongside staff members and associated staff on the HEP projects. The focus of the group though, is the Atlas project at CERN. The Atlas detector is a device  at CERN that detects and processes data from proton collisions inside the large hadron collider.  The collider is a facility built to test theories of particle physics and high-energy physics including the well-known Big Bang Theory.

“Students need to have passion for what we do”, said Prof Mellado. “We are able to attract people based on their hobbies”.

“A whole generation of students will be trained in electronics. We will bring the knowledge here and the knowledge will stay here”.

Another two HEP students are currently working on a new prototype of an LED board for the Atlas Project. Titus Masike, 3rd year Nuclear Sciences and Engineering is designing the new LED board and Reto Suter, BSc Physics will be responsible for the physical components.

“Think of it (the LED board) as a light bulb that emits a light and mimics an event in the Atlas detector.”

Masike joined HEP because he was interested in electronics and said the group allowed him to learn more about it. “It’s a very big step for Wits and for Africa especially. It brings new technology and skills to South Africa too.”

HEP is also in the process of developing a high-throughput supercomputer that can analyse a big flow of data.

The supercomputer will be the first of its kind in South Africa and the group aims to build the processing unit from chips found in smartphones.