Feb 20, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Research on a Grand Scale: Over 5,000 Scientists Come Together for Record-Breaking Publication

May 16, 2015 02:38 PM EDT

If only the world were as unified as the field of particle physics, what a grand world it would be...

Over 5,000 of them have come together in what is the largest scientific collaboration on record. Their paper, which was published on May 14th in the journal Physical Review Letters, is a joint effort between members from ATLAS and CMS, two teams that operate detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of our universe.

The LHC, located near Geneva, Switzerland, is not only the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator, it's the world's largest machine, period. This behemoth consists of a 27-kilometer ring of superconducting magnets, which hurtle high-energy particle beams in opposite directions at speeds approaching that of light, ultimately resulting in a collision. It was powered up for the first time on September 10, 2008 and, aside from a recent two-year shut-down for maintenance and upgrading, has been slowly revealing the inner workings of the cosmos.

The paper is the latest attempt to obtain a more precise estimate of the mass of the Higgs boson, that essential ingredient of the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes all known elementary particles and their actions. And their efforts were rewarded with a measurement precision of around .25%.

Almost as daunting as the research itself were the publishing logistics of a paper authored by 5,154 scientists. The research culminated in a 33-page article, 24 of which were dedicated to the list of authors and their institutions.

Robert Garisto, an editor at Physical Review Letters, commented on the formidable task. "The biggest problem was merging the author lists from two collaborations with their own slightly different styles. I was impressed at how well the pair of huge collaborations worked together in responding to referee and editorial comments," Garisto says.

This type of "hyperauthored" paper, however, is nothing new for particle scientists. In 2008, even before the LHC began colliding protons, a paper highlighting CMS experiments was co-authored by 3,000. A 2012 paper, this time centering on the ATLAS team's work on the Higgs particle, was authored by 2,932. And 21 of the authors weren't even alive.

Perhaps when you're tackling an issue as grand as the universe, it takes a super-robust collaboration. And when it comes to the complexities of particle physics, the more brains the better.

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