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Louisiana Tech physicists highlight top 10 science stories of 2008

Discover, one of the world's premier science and technology news magazines, released its list of the Top 100 Stories for 2008 and features two projects involving physicists from Louisiana Tech University in its Top 10.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project, which involved over 5,000 scientists and engineers from 26 nations, ranked #2 on the list. Drs. Lee Sawyer, Dick Greenwood, and Markus Wobisch led a team from Louisiana Tech that is involved in the commissioning and operation of the ATLAS detector, which will allow scientists to tap into the physics potential of the LHC.

"[Louisiana Tech] has three faculty members and two graduate students working on the ATLAS experiment, and our post doc at Fermilab has begun the transition to LHC-related work," says Sawyer, head of the physics department at Louisiana Tech.

The LHC accelerates two streams of protons toward each other at nearly 99.99% of the speed of light in an effort to prove, or possibly disprove, the "Big Bang Theory." It could also explain why some particles are massive while others are without mass, why there is matter and not antimatter, and whether or not other dimensions exist.

According to Sawyer, the same faculty members, along with several other undergraduate and graduate students, are also working on the D0 experiment at Fermilab. Their efforts played a significant part in the recent discovery of the Omega_b baryon.

Tech physics professor Dr. Dentcho Genov contributed to research related to technology needed to make an "invisibility cloak." Ranked #7 on the Top 100 list, researchers are creating laboratory-engineered wonder materials that can conceal objects from almost anything that travels as a wave, including light, sound and, at the subatomic level, matter itself.

According to Discover, these engineered substances, known as "metamaterials," get their unusual properties from their size and shape, not their chemistry. Because of the way they are composed, they can shuffle waves away from an object.

"These metamaterials, undreamed of a few years ago, may prove to be one of the key technologies of the 21st century," explains Sawyer. "Already people are beginning to think of innovative ways of applying these materials. While a lot of discussion has been about 'cloaking devices,' there is a lot of promise in new optical devices and coatings."

In addition to the recognition by Discover, Time magazine also acknowledges the significance of these two projects, ranking the LHC story at #1 on its Top 10 of 2008 list and the "invisibility cloak" story at #7.

"This recognition by Discover and Time magazines confirms that the physics faculty at Louisiana Tech are contributing significantly to relevant and vital science discoveries," says Dr. Stan Napper, dean of Louisiana Tech's College of Engineering and Science. "Our students are directly benefiting from these outstanding researchers who are also outstanding educators."

"Person for person, we have the finest physics faculty in the country," says Sawyer. "Our faculty offer students at both the undergraduate and graduate level a wide range of opportunities for research at the forefront of science."


Contact: Dave Guerin
Louisiana Tech University

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