UChicago computational researchers join quest to search beyond the Higgs boson

University to help analyze flood of new data from updated Large Hadron Collider

In 2026, the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland will begin its next phase, probing the mysteries of the universe through collisions of its most intense beams to date. But each year, the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC) will generate billions of gigabytes of data—up to 100 times more data than was required to discover the Higgs boson.

Meeting those immense data demands and enabling new discoveries will require innovative software and computing approaches for data analysis, organization and management. The new $25 million Institute for Research and Innovation in Software for High-Energy Physics, or IRIS-HEP, will meet these challenges by gathering researchers from 17 U.S. universities, including the University of Chicago.

Driven primarily by the HL-LHC, over the next five years the National Science Foundation-funded IRIS-HEP will be an active center for software R&D in areas of innovative algorithms, data analysis platforms, and data organization, management and access systems. Led by Princeton University, the group includes researchers from UChicago’s Enrico Fermi Institute and Department of Computer Science that will help create the tools needed to fulfill the scientific potential of these unprecedented experiments.

“The computing grid built for the LHC enabled thousands of researchers around the globe collaborate to make discoveries at the high-energy frontier of particle physics,” said Robert W. Gardner, a research professor in the Enrico Fermi Institute and physicist on the ATLAS experiment at CERN. “IRIS-HEP will transform this cyberinfrastructure with new services for computing and analytics which address not only the extreme scale of the HL-LHC data sets but also their complexity. New algorithms and data analysis systems better suited to the high-performance processors and data storage systems of the future will need to be developed."

Since its first run in 2009, the Large Hadron Collider has contributed important discoveries to our understanding of the building blocks of the universe, culminating in the confirmation of the Higgs boson in 2012. The next phase of the LHC aims to go beyond the Standard Model of particle physics, seeking new knowledge about dark matter and other rare processes.

To do so, CERN has started an upgrade to increase the luminosity of the LHC beam by a factor of 10, with a target of 2026 for completion. Experiments on this enhanced instrument will probe deeper into the nature of matter than ever before, but also will produce data that far exceeds current computational resources. Experts estimate that HL-LHC runs will record ten times more events than currently possible, generate 100 times the data, and require 20 times more storage and ten times today’s computer resources to analyze the results.

IRIS-HEP establishes a software research and development center and intellectual hub that bridges the high energy physics and cyberinfrastructure communities. While headquartered at the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering, the project will be a virtual institute spanning experiments, countries and disciplines. In addition to its research and development goals, IRIS-HEP will lead computation and data science education and training through workshops, summer schools, seminars and public outreach.

“IRIS-HEP will be instrumental in providing HL-LHC physicists with the tools they need to filter and analyze extreme-scale data sets to search for rare particles revealing new physics and to more precisely measure the properties of the Higgs boson", said Young-Kee Kim, the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the Department of Physics. Kim, a leader in the ATLAS experiment and formerly deputy director of Fermilab, will serve on the Institute’s advisory board.

Among the UChicago participants in IRIS-HEP, Gardner brings experience building distributed cyberinfrastructure systems for ATLAS, one of the four major detectors at the LHC. In IRIS-HEP, UChicago will prototype novel data organization and delivery services, and will lead the Institute's Scalable Systems Laboratory (SSL), a platform for developing and scale-testing software elements in the context of the experiments' core software environments. The SSL will provide the pathway for innovations in the Institute to be incorporated into production at CERN and globally in the worldwide LHC computing grid.

Additional IRIS-HEP collaborators come from UChicago’s Department of Computer Science. Asst. Prof. Aaron Elmore will contribute to the group’s Data Organization, Management and Access team, developing new ways to organize and deliver HL-LHC data to diverse analysis platforms around the world. Andrew A. Chien, the William Eckhardt Distinguished Service Professor in Computer Science, will explore distributed techniques to scale analyses and infrastructure, particularly studying novel hardware accelerators that transform data for efficient transmission and analysis.

“We’re not trying to reduce the number of bits transported across the networks, but to maximize the information content of each bit, and thereby multiply the amount of science the physics community can do by ten or even one hundred times,” Chien said. “By filtering down to the right data and choosing efficient representations, the research analysis can scale up, even for each specific network, storage or compute capability in the LHC computing system.”

The IRIS-HEP project will be co-funded within NSF by the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure in the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering; and the Division of Physics in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate.

In addition to UChicago and Princeton University, the IRIS-HEP project will include participants from Cornell University, Indiana University, MIT, New York University, Stanford University, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California-San Diego, the University of California-Santa Cruz, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Michigan, the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin.