HiggsHunters is the first mass-participation citizen science project for the Large Hadron Collider, allowing non-experts to get directly involved in physics analysis. Since its launch in 2014 on the Zooniverse platform, over 30,000 people from 179 countries have participated in the project. Their work has led to the project’s first publication on arXiv.
Citizen scientists are asked to examine ATLAS event displays, looking for “off-centre vertices” where several tracks intersect away from the central collision point. These events may indicate the presence of a new long-lived particle; such a discovery would be extremely significant to the scientific community.
Analysing event displays on the HiggsHunters website. (Image: ATLAS Experiment/CERN)
The recently-released paper shows the results of over 1.2 million event display classifications. “We found the collective ability of our volunteers to be excellent,” says Alan Barr, ATLAS physicist who led the creation of the project (University of Oxford). “Our citizen scientists are very good at pattern recognition by eye, and are able to spot ‘weird’ or unusual events that wouldn’t otherwise have been identified. In fact, for certain particle types, they were even able to identify ‘off-centre vertices’ better than existing computer algorithms.”
These results help to cement the scientific viability of citizen science projects in high-energy physics. “Even without making a discovery, our volunteers have made a great contribution,” says Barr. “We hope to feed back their results to improve our existing analysis algorithms.” Given the success, there’s plenty of opportunity for further papers from HiggsHunters.
Interested in becoming a sharp-shooting Higgs hunter? Join the project’s thriving community by visiting HiggsHunters.org.