Dr Sahal Yacoob of the School of Chemistry and Physics has delivered a series of lectures about the discovery of the Higgs Boson which confirmed mankind’s understanding of the origins of elementary particle mass.

The discovery was made during two experiments - CMS and ATLAS - at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) which Yacoob was intimately involved in.  The experiments are large multinational endeavours with thousands of physicists and engineers working on complex unique detectors which are 100m underground and about five storeys high.

During the lectures, Yacoob gave his audiences a better understanding of the work at CERN  and attempted to clarify what is meant by the “origin of mass”, placed the discovery in the context of our current understanding of the subatomic world, shared some of the excitement in the physics community and touched on the complexity and effort behind this discovery.

When asked what the discovery of the Higgs Boson meant to the man in the street, Yacoob replied:  ‘Think of it this way. We have found the fertile seeds of a missing part of the great cosmic tree. We have planted those seeds and now we must see what grows. If it is what we believe, then it will open the way to a brand new chapter in physics.’

Durban-born Yacoob completed his BSc (Hons) at the University of Cape Town in 1999 and his MSc in 2002 before studying at Northwestern University in Evanston in the United States where he obtained a PhD in Physics and Astronomy in 2010.

Yacoob devoted two years as a postdoctoral researcher at CERN for the University of the Witwatersrand before returning to South Africa at the beginning of 2012 to take up a lectureship in the School of Chemistry and Physics at UKZN.

He has also worked at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, and at the Tevatron particle collider in Batavia, Illinios.

Yacoob is passionate about instilling a love for physics in young minds.  ‘I love teaching and imparting the knowledge that I have acquired to others,’ he said.  He was recently involved in UKZN’s National Science Week and Be a Scientist for a Week programmes. 

Yacoob remains actively involved with the ATLAS experiment at CERN and is currently working to set up a virtual laboratory link so learners can witness in real time cutting-edge physics at work.

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