Thursday, July 5

Linux Played a Crucial Role in Discovery of 'Higgs boson'

Scientists working at CERN, Geneva have announced the discovery of Higgs boson which is considered to be one of the most important scientific feats in understanding the creation of Universe. 

Higgs boson is a a new subatomic particle that enables particles in atoms to gather mass, the basic building blocks of the universe. It is called 'God particle' because its existence is fundamental to the creation of the universe.

The name 'Higgs boson' comes from a British scientist Peter Higgs and Indian scientist Satyendra Nath Bose. 

Now, someone from CERN just posted on Reddit that Linux had a role in discovery of Higgs boson. 

I don't see any CERN related things here, so I want to mention how Linux (specifically, Scientific Linux and Ubuntu) had a vital role in the discovery of the new boson at CERN. We use it every day in our analyses, together with hosts of open software, such as ROOT, and it plays a major role in the running of our networks of computers (in the grid etc.) used for the intensive work in our calculations.

Yesterday's extremely important discovery has given us new information about how reality works at a very fundamental level and this is one physicist throwing Linux some love.

In terms of data analysis, Windows could be used in principle. We could also use some type of device that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a simple table of rules. Linux is used because it is most appropriate for the job. Linux is ubiquitous in HPC and we use a lot of computing power in LHC physics, so the arguments for the use of Linux in HPC are very similar to the arguments for the use of Linux in LHC physics analyses. Naturally, it's important to have an operating system that is free, open source and reliable (Scientific Linux is basically Red Hat Linux), but here's a quotation from the Scientific Linux website that should give some idea of why Scientific Linux is needed:

"Our main goal for the base distribution is to have everything compatible with Enterprise, with only a few minor additions or changes. Examples of items that were added are Alpine, and OpenAFS.

Our secondary goal is to allow easy customization for a site, without disturbing the Scientific Linux base. The various labs are able to add their own modifications to their own site areas. By the magic of scripts, and the anaconda installer, each site is to be able to create their own distributions with minimal effort. Or, if a user wishes, they can simply install the base SL release."

I work primarily in physics, not in computing, so I doubt that I am able to argue very competently for Linux over something such as BSD. The fact is that Linux was the operating system used in the overwhelming majority of the analyses contributing to the discovery, so, in that sense I think I am justified in claiming that Linux played a vital role in the discovery.

This is not surprising as CERN has a dedicated support website for Linux.


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