W and Z particles discovered

20 January 1983

In 1979, CERN decided to convert the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) into a proton–antiproton collider. A technique called stochastic cooling was vital to the project's success as it allowed enough antiprotons to be collected to make a beam.

The first proton–antiproton collisions were achieved just two years after the project was approved, and two experiments, UA1 and UA2, started to search the collision debris for signs of W and Z particles, carriers of the weak interaction between particles.

In 1983, CERN announced the discovery of the W and Z particles.The image above shows the the first detection of a Z0 particle, as seen by the UA1 experiment on 30 April 1983. The Z0 itself decays very quickly so cannot be seen, but an electron-proton pair produced in the decay appear in blue. UA1 observed proton-antiproton collisions on the SPS between 1981 and 1993 to look for the Z and W bosons, which mediate the weak fundamental force.

Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer, key scientists behind the work, received the Nobel Prize in physics only a year after the discovery. Rubbia instigated conversion of the SPS accelerator into a proton-antiproton collider and was spokesperson of the UA1 experiment while Van der Meer invented the stochastic cooling technique vital to the collider’s operation.

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