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Dr. Ryszard Stroynowski, Professor and Department Chair, Department of Physics

Dr. Ryszard Stroynowski, Professor and Department Chair, Department of Physics

The world did not explode on Sept. 10, as some non-scientists feared might happen, when the first beam of protons was sent racing around the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, but the moment did signal the onset of an explosion of knowledge about such 21st-century physics questions as where mass comes from, the nature of dark matter and the origins of the universe.

Shortly after 10 a.m. Geneva time on Sept. 10, a beam of protons sped around the 27-kilometer underground ring. The startup of the collider was a great moment in the life of SMU Physics Department Chairman Ryszard Stroynowski.

Stroynowski, who grew up in Poland and says he studied science partly to avoid politics, has spent a lifetime on the frontier of physics, beginning with his work at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. Stroynowski was a research scientist at CERN from 1969-1975 while he pursued a Ph.D. from the University of Geneva. He subsequently worked at Stanford and Cal Tech.

Stroynowski came to SMU in 1991, when construction of the exciting Superconducting Super Collider project was under way in North Central Texas. Congress later withdrew funding for the Waxahachie particle accelerator project.

Since that time, Stroynowski's attention has returned to the place where he did his training. The professor and his research group at SMU have been involved with the CERN project and the Large Hadron Collider. Stroynowski, whose speciality is opto-electronics, travels to Geneva several times a year, where he has been a key player in the design of the ATLAS experiment, one of two large experiments at the huge new particle accelerator.

ATLAS was a collaboration of more than 2,500 scientists from 38 countries. Stroynowski was the U.S. coordinator for the liquid argon calorimeter, which will track the particle fragments and debris that occur when protons beams crash into one another at extremely high speeds. When the collider is fully operational, millions of particle collisions will occur every second.

When particles collide, it's called an "event."

"We're looking for very rare events," says Stroynowski. "We look for tiny deviations. These tiny deviations correspond to, maybe, 10 events per year."

More billions of collisions in the making, scientists will be collecting and analyzing data for many, many years to come.

"We're asking really fundamental questions. What we're made of. How the universe was created," says Stroynowski.

The experiment could even yield knowledge about new dimensions or a so-called "God particle."

"Now is when the fun begins," says Stroynowski.

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