Dr Thomas Binoth killed by avalanche

Published on Tuesday, 5 January 2010 - 4:38pm
Photograph of Thomas at the top of a mountain in the Ecrins National Parc in the French Alps, Summer 2008. (Photography by Gudrun Heinrich)
Photograph of Thomas at the top of a mountain in the Ecrins National Parc in the French Alps, Summer 2008. (Photography by Gudrun Heinrich)

With great sadness, the School mourns the death of Thomas Binoth on Sunday 3rd January 2010 while skiing in Switzerland. Thomas was a Reader in Theoretical Particle Physics.

Further information

Obituary: Dr Thomas Binoth - Theoretical Physicist

Dr Thomas Binoth died in an avalanche on Sunday 3rd January 2010, while skiing in the Diemtigtal Valley, 25 miles south of Bern, Switzerland.

Thomas was a Reader in Theoretical Particle Physics at the University of Edinburgh. His death comes at a critical moment in the history of our understanding of physics at the smallest scales, the world of elementary particles and their interactions. We have a theory, the Standard Model, established forty years ago, which describes in fantastic detail the wealth of experimental data from high energy particle colliders. However, a key ingredient of this theory, the Higgs boson, has so far remained elusive. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), constructed over the last decade at CERN in Geneva, is the highest energy collider ever built, and is expected to discover the Higgs boson and the physics that underlies it. The first high energy collisions were seen in December 2009. This experiment was the focus of Thomas' theoretical work.

Understanding collisions at the LHC is a major challenge for theorists and experimentalists alike: only a tiny fraction (around one in a billion) of these collisions is expected to involve new physics, and these have to be singled out from a rich variety of Standard Model processes. To do this requires very refined and precise theoretical predictions and, thus, in parallel with the construction of the LHC and its experiments at Geneva, theorists around the world have, for the last ten years, been working to construct ever more sophisticated mathematical techniques and computer codes. Over the next few years, all this work is expected to come together to yield new and exciting discoveries: new particles, new symmetries and, possibly, new ideas and fundamental principles which might revolutionise our understanding of the physical world.

Thomas was born on 16 August 1965 and grew up in Maulburg, Germany. He entered the University of Freiburg in 1987 to study physics, writing a diploma thesis in 1993 on supersymmetric extensions of the Standard Model. He proceeded to a PhD under the supervision of Professor Jochum van der Bij, also at Freiburg, on the subject of non-perturbative effects in the Higgs sector of the Standard Model and beyond. The PhD was awarded summa cum laude in 1997. Thereafter, Thomas went on to a series of postdoctoral appointments at LAPTH Annecy, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Wurzburg. His work during this time had evolved into the development of sophisticated techniques for making precise predictions in the Standard model, and applying them to experimental collisions. Indeed he completed an Habilitation thesis with this title in 2002 at Annecy. He was appointed to a Lectureship at the University of Edinburgh in 2005, and promoted to a Readership in 2009. Thomas is the author of around forty papers, and a similar number of conference talks, most of them relating to the discovery of new physics at the LHC. His predictions for various signal and background processes, which include higher order quantum effects, are at the cutting edge in a highly competitive field.

With his collaborator Gudrun Heinrich, Thomas developed a new systematic algorithm called ‘sector decomposition’ to isolate divergence in Feynman diagram calculations, separating them off so that they can be dealt with analytically, allowing the rest of the diagram to be computed numerically. This method has had a high impact in the particle theory community and is now used by various groups in the context of NNLO predictions for the LHC. He is the author of various computer codes: DIPHOX and GG2ZZ for the production of photon and vector boson pairs (key background to the discovery of a light Higgs), and more recently GOLEM, a General One Loop Evaluator of Matrix elements. This last has developed into a major French and German collaboration project, which aims to provide NLO predictions for a wide variety of LHC processes involving as many as six external particles: examples include six photons, hadronic production of two Z bosons and one jet, and hadronic production of four b quarks. The ultimate goal is to provide higher order input for multi-purpose Monte Carlo event generators, for use by the experimental collaborations at LHC.

Thomas was a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher, who saw it as his mission to enthuse and motivate physics students in the same way as he had been himself as a student. His courses in Mathematical Physics were presented logically and consistently, exposing the beauty and simplicity of the mathematical structure in the physical laws of nature, and were highly appreciated. Thomas enjoyed interacting with students, both as a teacher and as a Personal Tutor. He supervised numerous Masters students and a number of PhD students, two of whom are now in research positions. He was active in running the Particle Theory Group in Edinburgh, and his reputation and enthusiasm were particularly effective in recruiting graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. He also helped develop links between the theory and experimental groups in Edinburgh, and played an important part in paving the way for the recent entry of the experimental group into the ATLAS experiment at the LHC.

When not engaged in physics, Thomas loved to go to the mountains: climbing in summer and skiing in winter. His enthusiasm and respect for nature in all its splendour and grandeur was immense.

Thomas leaves behind his partner and collaborator, Gudrun Heinrich, a legacy of physics results and data analysis tools that may yet play a key part in discoveries at the LHC, and many friends and collaborators worldwide who are honoured to have known and worked with him. Thomas' funeral was held on Wednesday 13th January 2010 in Maulburg.

Messages of condolence and memories

Dr Thomas Binoth: Messages of Condolences and Memories

The Binoth Les Houches Accord


Higgs-Maxwell tribute

Tribute to Thomas at Higgs-Maxwell meeting by Zoltan Kunzst (PDF document)

The Thomas Binoth symposium

This will take place on Friday 12th March 2010 at 2pm, in Lecture Theatre B, JCMB. More information can be found on the Particle Physics Theory Group's website.