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Georges Charpak Prize: "A recognition of our collective work"

The Georges Charpak Prize 2014 was awarded on Tuesday, November 25, 2014, to Christophe Ochando. The winner of the Prize has conducted major scientific works in X's Leprince-Ringuet Laboratory leading to the discovery of the Higgs at the Large Haldron Collider at the CERN in Geneva.

Interview with Christophe Ochando, laureate of the Georges Charpak Prize 2014

Why did the discovery of the boson radically change the history of the universe and of matter?
The discovery of the Higgs boson, a new particle, demonstrates the existence of a new field: the Higgs field. The existence of the Higgs field actually helps to understand the origin of the masses, and thus the possibility for matter to organize itself.
The Higgs field, which appeared immediately after the "birth" of the universe, has given a mass to all elementary particles. From there, matter could then begin to organize itself. Then, in parallel with the evolution of the universe, we have witnessed the formation of atoms, stars and ultimately, life.
This boson has validated a theory postulated in the 1960s by Robert Brout, François Englert and Peter Higgs.

The experiments that took place at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN, which led to the discovery of the Higgs Boson, will resume in 2015. What do the scientists hope to find now?
The discovery of the Higgs boson opens the way to the discovery of other particles. We may find more about the existence of the dark matter in our universe, this mysterious component probably composed of elementary particles.
Take for example the theory of supersymmetry: this theory predicts the existence of many particles, so far unknown, possibly including that of dark matter. This theory is today only a prediction. Experiments at the LHC, the largest and most powerful accelerator of particles worldwide, might lead to new discoveries in two, five or even ten years. Anything is possible.
If the experiments on the accelerator could prove that this theory of supersymmetry exists, the step foward would be far superior to the discovery of the Higgs boson. For if this theory is true, it means that dark matter exists. And dark matter accounts for 30% of the universe, when ordinary matter - ie, matter as we know it until now - represents only 4% of it. This would allow us to understand our universe and particularly what happened during the first moments that followed the Big Bang.

To what practical applications can this research lead to?
It is too early right now to say whether the Higgs boson will lead to concrete applications or not. But in view of history, Einstein's theory on general relativity led to applications such as the GPS systems used today. Similarly, the basic principle of the laser was discovered in 1917. But it was only forty years later that the laser was born. Today, the laser is omnipresent in our daily lives: major tool for physicists, chemists and doctors, it is also used to read barcodes or DVDs. More broadly, fundamental research usually leads to applications in daily life.

What is precisely the use of fundamental research?
The goal of fundamental research is to understand the universe and its operation. It contributes significantly to human progress. Fundamental research is at the root of everything: without it, there is no progress or innovation. It is not by trying to improve the candle that we invented electricity!
It must also be said that fundamental research takes time, when our society today is under the dictatorship of emergency. But the great discoveries are made on the long term. The first meetings on the LHC began in 1984. The LHC started operating in 2009 and should continue until 2035: it is the project of a lifetime.

What does the Charpak prize represent for you?
This award is for all the services of the Leprince-Ringuet Laboratory (École Polytechnique / CNRS) as well as the CMS group who participated to the discovery of the Higgs boson, from the design of the detector to the data analysis. This is a recognition of our collective work and of the research done at the Leprince-Ringuet Laboratory (LLR) with the support of the École Polytechnique for over twenty years.

Learn more:
>The Georges Charpak Prize
Founded in 2010 by the Ministry of Research in honor of Georges Charpak, member of the French Academy of Sciences and Nobel Prize in physics, the Prize was awarded this year to a physicist working in the field of experimental high-energy physics.
Read the press release from the French Academy of sciences (French)
>The laureate 2014
Christophe Ochando is a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) working for the Leprince-Ringuet Laboratory at École Polytechnique and for the National Institute of Nuclear Physics and Particle Physics of the CNRS. After defending his PhD at the LAL (Laboratoire de l’Accélérateur Linéaire d’Orsay) in 2008 on the search for the Higgs boson in the D0 experiment (Tevatron, USA) and a post-doctorate at the IFAE (Barcelona) on Atlas experiment, Christophe Ochando joined the CNRS and the CMS group Leprince-Ringuet Laboratory (LLR) in 2009. In 2012 and 2013, he coordinated the analysis and research group on the Higgs boson and its disintegration in 4 leptons, channel which led to the discovery announced in July 2012.