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Rubbia, Carlo

physics particle particles meer

(1934– ) Italian physicist: co-discoverer of the W and Z particles.

A graduate of Pisa, Rubbia held a chair of physics at Harvard by 1972 and became director of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) at Geneva in 1989, where he had also worked from 1960.

By the mid-1970s it was known that the forces within nuclei operate by interchange of particles: eg the electromagnetic force arises by exchange of virtual photons. The weak nuclear interaction was deduced to require particles named as W and Z bosons, and the search was on to secure evidence for them. Their production would need a powerful particle accelerator and with Simon van der Meer (1925– ), Rubbia redesigned CERN’s proton synchrotron (which has a 7 km circumference ring) to form a proton-antiproton collider at high energy (2000 GeV). In 1983 large numbers of collisions (>106) were recorded, and a handful were firmly identified as W – and W + events: these decay in 10 –20 s to electrons and neutrinos. Later that year the Z° was also identified. Rubbia’s paper of 1983 describing the work lists 130 co-authors: massive and costly equipment and large teams are needed in modern particle physics. Rubbia and van der Meer shared the Nobel Prize for 1984.

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