Op-eds Science

Signs of a slowdown

The way ahead for particle physics seems dully lit after CERN’s fourth-of-July firecracker. The Higgs announcement got everyone in the physics community excited – and spurred a frenzied submission of pre-prints all rushing to explain the particle’s properties. However, that excitement quickly died out after ICHEP ’12 was presented with nothing significant, even with anything a fraction as significant as the ATLAS/CMS results.

(L-R) Gianotti, Heuer & Incandela

Even so, I suppose we must wait at least another 3 months before a a conclusive Higgs-centric theory emerges that completely integrates the Higgs mechanism with the extant Standard Model.

The spotting of the elusive boson – or an impostor – closes a decades-old chapter in particle physics, but does almost nothing in pointing the way ahead apart from verifying the process of mass-formation. Even theoretically, the presence of SM quadratic divergences in the mass of the Higgs boson prove a resilient barrier to correct. How the Higgs field will be used as a tool in detecting other particles and the properties of other entities is altogether unclear.

The tricky part lies in working out the intricacies of the hypotheses that promise to point the way ahead. The most dominant amongst them is supersymmetry (SUSY). In fact, hints of existence of supersymmetric partners were recorded when the LHCb detector at the LHC spotted evidence of CP-violation in muon-decay events (the latter at 3.9σ). At the same time, the physicists I’m in touch with at IMS point out that rigid restrictions have been instituted on the discovery of sfermions and bosinos.

The energies at which these partners could be found are beyond those achievable by the LHC, let alone the luminosity. More, any favourable-looking ATLAS/CMS SUSY-results – which are simply interpretations of strange events – are definitely applicable only in narrow and very special scenarios. Such a condition is inadmissible when we’re actually in the hunt for frameworks that could explain grander phenomena. Like the link itself says,

“The searches leave little room for SUSY inside the reach of the existing data.”

Despite this bleak outlook, there is still a possibility that SUSY may stand verified in the future. Right now: “Could SUSY be masked behind general gauge mediation, R-parity violation or gauge-mediated SUSY-breaking” is the question (gauge-mediated SUSY-breaking (GMSB) is when some hidden sector breaks SUSY and communicates the products to the SM via messenger fields). Also, ZEUS/DESY results (generated by e-p DIS studies) are currently being interpreted.

However, everyone knows that between now and a future that contains a verified-SUSY, hundreds of financial appeals stand in the way. 😀 This is a typical time of slowdown – a time we must use for open-minded hypothesizing, discussion, careful verification, and, importantly, honest correction.

3 replies on “Signs of a slowdown”

My knowledge of particle physics is nowhere close to yours it seems. 🙂 I’m just teaching myself from correspondences with physicists, textbooks, and press releases. I’ll look up what you said. On another note: the idea of a post-eternal universe seems really interesting, physically and philosophically. Also, the unification of particle physics and cosmology is self-evident, no?

I am a bit perplexed. The reason a standard Higgs may not be all that helpful with new particle physics may be because a 125-126 GeV standard Higgs seems to be quasistable bar new physics.

According to Susskind and Douglas (see link for ref) it predicts supersymmetry, but else it would be a sign of anthropic selection akin to the cosmological constant. It may even test Douglas “master vacuum” statistics, so it could be progress of sorts.

Maybe it is just a sign that particle physics and cosmology needs to be married sooner or later? In any case, if the standard Higgs tells us the fate of the universe* it is exciting IMHO!

Decay time ~ 10^100 years @ 2 sigma, pending more LHC results finessing parameters – according to several estimates on arxiv. It is highly attuned to quasistability AFAIU, the latest estimate find all its parameters conspiring.

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