The Future of Everything

June 25, 2012

Higgs boson

Filed under: Physics — David @ 9:02 am

Latest rumor on Higgs boson front is that CERN is arranging a press conference on July 4 to (possibly) announce the official discovery of the Higgs boson.

I was originally a skeptic on the Higgs, though I’ll admit I did warm to the Standard Model while writing my book Truth or Beauty. In my mind it has come to resemble an iconic piece of architecture from the 1960s, which I hope will be lovingly refurbished rather than dynamited by planners.

Anyway, the discovery is very exciting if it turns out to be true – though as I mentioned back in 2008, it would be even more exciting if the particle turns out to be at least slightly different from expected …

August 21, 2011

LHC aesthetics

Filed under: Physics — David @ 8:14 am

I’m researching the background to particle physics for a new book on the relationship between science and aesthetics. Two of the main theories currently being tested at the Large Hadron Collider project are the Higgs theory, and supersymmetry. The Higgs theory plays a vital role in the Standard Model of subatomic particles, and says that space is pervaded by a particle – the Higgs boson – which interacts with other particles in such a way that it gives them mass. Supersymmetry is a component of a Theory of Everything which unites all the forces and particles under a single theory.

My argument in the book is that many such theories are proposed on purely aesthetic grounds – but that the aesthetics are wrong. So, a couple of predictions.

First is that the Higgs boson doesn’t show up, at least exactly as expected. New data will be announced tomorrow (22 August) at Lepton-Photon 2011 so we’ll see.

Second, no supersymmetric particles will appear. Ever.

September 8, 2008

Big Bang II

Filed under: Physics — David @ 9:57 am

So the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will finally fire up this week, a beam of high-energy protons looping for the first time around its 27 km tunnel deep under the Swiss/French countryside. Once the beam has been tuned, an opposing stream of protons will be sent in the opposite direction, and the two brought together to collide at various experimental sites around the ring. The energy of the collision will recreate, in a somewhat reduced form, the conditions prevalent immediately after the Big Bang. It will be the largest experiment in human history. So what will it find?

The hope among physicists is that they will discover things like the Higgs particle, responsible for giving matter its mass, and maybe more exotic phenomena such as super-symmetric particles, extra dimensions of space, or even mini-black holes. However, as Science reported last week, many people are worried that the LHC will turn out to be a doomsday machine. In part this is a result of the scientists’ own spin. CERN theorist Jonathan Ellis notes that “we talk about recreating the big bang, and people think, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to recreate the big bang!'” Such worries were also fueled by Nostradamus, who wrote:

Leave, leave Geneva every last one of you,

Saturn will be converted from gold to iron,

RAYPOZ will exterminate all who oppose him,

Before the coming the sky will show signs.

which if you interpret RAYPOZ as being a beam of protons is enough to get you looking nervously at the sky above Geneva for signs of an emerging black hole.

Personally I’m not too worried about that – as I told Coast to Coast AM back in March, we’re constantly being exposed to cosmic rays that have a much higher energy than the LHC beams, and so far no one I know has been sucked into a mini-black hole. A bigger risk, at least for the accelerator community, is that the LHC doesn’t turn up anything too novel or surprising – in which case it will be very hard to raise money for the next big experiment.

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