Tag Archives: ExtraDimensions

What if the Large Hadron Collider Finds Nothing Else?

In my last post, I expressed the view that a particle accelerator with proton-proton collisions of (roughly) 100 TeV of energy, significantly more powerful than the currently operational Large Hadron Collider [LHC] that helped scientists discover the Higgs particle, is an obvious and important next steps in our process of learning about the elementary workings of nature. And I described how we don’t yet know whether it will be an exploratory machine or a machine with a clear scientific target; it will depend on what the LHC does or does not discover over the coming few years.

What will it mean, for the 100 TeV collider project and more generally, if the LHC, having made possible the discovery of the Higgs particle, provides us with no more clues?  Specifically, over the next few years, hundreds of tests of the Standard Model (the equations that govern the known particles and forces) will be carried out in measurements made by the ATLAS, CMS and LHCb experiments at the LHC. Suppose that, as it has so far, the Standard Model passes every test that the experiments carry out? In particular, suppose the Higgs particle discovered in 2012 appears, after a few more years of intensive study, to be, as far the LHC can reveal, a Standard Model Higgs — the simplest possible type of Higgs particle?

Before we go any further, let’s keep in mind that we already know that the Standard Model isn’t all there is to nature. The Standard Model does not provide a consistent theory of gravity, nor does it explain neutrino masses, dark matter or “dark energy” (also known as the cosmological constant). Moreover, many of its features are just things we have to accept without explanation, such as the strengths of the forces, the existence of “three generations” (i.e., that there are two heavier cousins of the electron, two for the up quark and two for the down quark), the values of the masses of the various particles, etc. However, even though the Standard Model has its limitations, it is possible that everything that can actually be measured at the LHC — which cannot measure neutrino masses or directly observe dark matter or dark energy — will be well-described by the Standard Model. What if this is the case?

Michelson and Morley, and What They Discovered

In science, giving strong evidence that something isn’t there can be as important as discovering something that is there — and it’s often harder to do, because you have to thoroughly exclude all possibilities. [It's very hard to show that your lost keys are nowhere in the house --- you have to convince yourself that you looked everywhere.] A famous example is the case of Albert Michelson, in his two experiments (one in 1881, a second with Edward Morley in 1887) trying to detect the “ether wind”.

Light had been shown to be a wave in the 1800s; and like all waves known at the time, it was assumed to be a wave in something material, just as sound waves are waves in air, and ocean waves are waves in water. This material was termed the “luminiferous ether”. As we can detect our motion through air or through water in various ways, it seemed that it should be possible to detect our motion through the ether, specifically by looking for the possibility that light traveling in different directions travels at slightly different speeds.  This is what Michelson and Morley were trying to do: detect the movement of the Earth through the luminiferous ether.

Both of Michelson’s measurements failed to detect any ether wind, and did so expertly and convincingly. And for the convincing method that he invented — an experimental device called an interferometer, which had many other uses too — Michelson won the Nobel Prize in 1907. Meanwhile the failure to detect the ether drove both FitzGerald and Lorentz to consider radical new ideas about how matter might be deformed as it moves through the ether. Although these ideas weren’t right, they were important steps that Einstein was able to re-purpose, even more radically, in his 1905 equations of special relativity.

In Michelson’s case, the failure to discover the ether was itself a discovery, recognized only in retrospect: a discovery that the ether did not exist. (Or, if you’d like to say that it does exist, which some people do, then what was discovered is that the ether is utterly unlike any normal material substance in which waves are observed; no matter how fast or in what direction you are moving relative to me, both of us are at rest relative to the ether.) So one must not be too quick to assume that a lack of discovery is actually a step backwards; it may actually be a huge step forward.

Epicycles or a Revolution?

There were various attempts to make sense of Michelson and Morley’s experiment.   Some interpretations involved  tweaks of the notion of the ether.  Tweaks of this type, in which some original idea (here, the ether) is retained, but adjusted somehow to explain the data, are often referred to as “epicycles” by scientists.   (This is analogous to the way an epicycle was used by Ptolemy to explain the complex motions of the planets in the sky, in order to retain an earth-centered universe; the sun-centered solar system requires no such epicycles.) A tweak of this sort could have been the right direction to explain Michelson and Morley’s data, but as it turned out, it was not. Instead, the non-detection of the ether wind required something more dramatic — for it turned out that waves of light, though at first glance very similar to other types of waves, were in fact extraordinarily different. There simply was no ether wind for Michelson and Morley to detect.

If the LHC discovers nothing beyond the Standard Model, we will face what I see as a similar mystery.  As I explained here, the Standard Model, with no other particles added to it, is a consistent but extraordinarily “unnatural” (i.e. extremely non-generic) example of a quantum field theory.  This is a big deal. Just as nineteenth-century physicists deeply understood both the theory of waves and many specific examples of waves in nature  and had excellent reasons to expect a detectable ether, twenty-first century physicists understand quantum field theory and naturalness both from the theoretical point of view and from many examples in nature, and have very good reasons to expect particle physics to be described by a natural theory.  (Our examples come both from condensed matter physics [e.g. metals, magnets, fluids, etc.] and from particle physics [e.g. the physics of hadrons].) Extremely unnatural systems — that is, physical systems described by quantum field theories that are highly non-generic — simply have not previously turned up in nature… which is just as we would expect from our theoretical understanding.

[Experts: As I emphasized in my Santa Barbara talk last week, appealing to anthropic arguments about the hierarchy between gravity and the other forces does not allow you to escape from the naturalness problem.]

So what might it mean if an unnatural quantum field theory describes all of the measurements at the LHC? It may mean that our understanding of particle physics requires an epicyclic change — a tweak.  The implications of a tweak would potentially be minor. A tweak might only require us to keep doing what we’re doing, exploring in the same direction but a little further, working a little harder — i.e. to keep colliding protons together, but go up in collision energy a bit more, from the LHC to the 100 TeV collider. For instance, perhaps the Standard Model is supplemented by additional particles that, rather than having masses that put them within reach of the LHC, as would inevitably be the case in a natural extension of the Standard Model (here’s an example), are just a little bit heavier than expected. In this case the world would be somewhat unnatural, but not too much, perhaps through some relatively minor accident of nature; and a 100 TeV collider would have enough energy per collision to discover and reveal the nature of these particles.

Or perhaps a tweak is entirely the wrong idea, and instead our understanding is fundamentally amiss. Perhaps another Einstein will be needed to radically reshape the way we think about what we know.  A dramatic rethink is both more exciting and more disturbing. It was an intellectual challenge for 19th century physicists to imagine, from the result of the Michelson-Morley experiment, that key clues to its explanation would be found in seeking violations of Newton’s equations for how energy and momentum depend on velocity. (The first experiments on this issue were carried out in 1901, but definitive experiments took another 15 years.) It was an even greater challenge to envision that the already-known unexplained shift in the orbit of Mercury would also be related to the Michelson-Morley (non)-discovery, as Einstein, in trying to adjust Newton’s gravity to make it consistent with the theory of special relativity, showed in 1913.

My point is that the experiments that were needed to properly interpret Michelson-Morley’s result

  • did not involve trying to detect motion through the ether,
  • did not involve building even more powerful and accurate interferometers,
  • and were not immediately obvious to the practitioners in 1888.

This should give us pause. We might, if we continue as we are, be heading in the wrong direction.

Difficult as it is to do, we have to take seriously the possibility that if (and remember this is still a very big “if”) the LHC finds only what is predicted by the Standard Model, the reason may involve a significant reorganization of our knowledge, perhaps even as great as relativity’s re-making of our concepts of space and time. Were that the case, it is possible that higher-energy colliders would tell us nothing, and give us no clues at all. An exploratory 100 TeV collider is not guaranteed to reveal secrets of nature, any more than a better version of Michelson-Morley’s interferometer would have been guaranteed to do so. It may be that a completely different direction of exploration, including directions that currently would seem silly or pointless, will be necessary.

This is not to say that a 100 TeV collider isn’t needed!  It might be that all we need is a tweak of our current understanding, and then such a machine is exactly what we need, and will be the only way to resolve the current mysteries.  Or it might be that the 100 TeV machine is just what we need to learn something revolutionary.  But we also need to be looking for other lines of investigation, perhaps ones that today would sound unrelated to particle physics, or even unrelated to any known fundamental question about nature.

Let me provide one example from recent history — one which did not lead to a discovery, but still illustrates that this is not all about 19th century history.

An Example

One of the great contributions to science of Nima Arkani-Hamed, Savas Dimopoulos and Gia Dvali was to observe (in a 1998 paper I’ll refer to as ADD, after the authors’ initials) that no one had ever excluded the possibility that we, and all the particles from which we’re made, can move around freely in three spatial dimensions, but are stuck (as it were) as though to the corner edge of a thin rod — a rod as much as one millimeter wide, into which only gravitational fields (but not, for example, electric fields or magnetic fields) may penetrate.  Moreover, they emphasized that the presence of these extra dimensions might explain why gravity is so much weaker than the other known forces.

Fig. 1: ADD's paper pointed out that no experiment as of 1998 could yet rule out the possibility that our familiar three dimensional world is a corner of a five-dimensional world, where the two extra dimensions are finite but perhaps as large as a millimeter.

Fig. 1: ADD’s paper pointed out that no experiment as of 1998 could yet rule out the possibility that our familiar three-dimensional world is a corner of a five-dimensional world, where the two extra dimensions are finite but perhaps as large as a millimeter.

Given the incredible number of experiments over the past two centuries that have probed distances vastly smaller than a millimeter, the claim that there could exist millimeter-sized unknown dimensions was amazing, and came as a tremendous shock — certainly to me. At first, I simply didn’t believe that the ADD paper could be right.  But it was.

One of the most important immediate effects of the ADD paper was to generate a strong motivation for a new class of experiments that could be done, rather inexpensively, on the top of a table. If the world were as they imagined it might be, then Newton’s (and Einstein’s) law for gravity, which states that the force between two stationary objects depends on the distance r between them as 1/r², would increase faster than this at distances shorter than the width of the rod in Figure 1.  This is illustrated in Figure 2.

Fig. 2: If the world were as sketched in Figure 1, then Newton/Einstein's law of gravity would be violated at distances shorter than the width of the rod in Figure 1.  The blue line shows Newton/Einstein's prediction; the red line shows what a universe like that in Figure 1 would predict instead.  Experiments done in the last few years agree with the blue curve down to a small fraction of a millimeter.

Fig. 2: If the world were as sketched in Figure 1, then Newton/Einstein’s law of gravity would be violated at distances shorter than the width of the rod in Figure 1. The blue line shows Newton/Einstein’s prediction; the red line shows what a universe like that in Figure 1 would predict instead. Experiments done in the last few years agree with the blue curve down to a small fraction of a millimeter.

These experiments are not easy — gravity is very, very weak compared to electrical forces, and lots of electrical effects can show up at very short distances and have to be cleverly avoided. But some of the best experimentalists in the world figured out how to do it (see here and here). After the experiments were done, Newton/Einstein’s law was verified down to a few hundredths of a millimeter.  If we live on the corner of a rod, as in Figure 1, it’s much, much smaller than a millimeter in width.

But it could have been true. And if it had, it might not have been discovered by a huge particle accelerator. It might have been discovered in these small inexpensive experiments that could have been performed years earlier. The experiments weren’t carried out earlier mainly because no one had pointed out quite how important they could be.

Ok Fine; What Other Experiments Should We Do?

So what are the non-obvious experiments we should be doing now or in the near future?  Well, if I had a really good suggestion for a new class of experiments, I would tell you — or rather, I would write about it in a scientific paper. (Actually, I do know of an important class of measurements, and I have written a scientific paper about them; but these are measurements to be done at the LHC, and don’t involve a entirely new experiment.)  Although I’m thinking about these things, I do not yet have any good ideas.  Until I do, or someone else does, this is all just talk — and talk does not impress physicists.

Indeed, you might object that my remarks in this post have been almost without content, and possibly without merit.  I agree with that objection.

Still, I have some reasons for making these points. In part, I want to highlight, for a wide audience, the possible historic importance of what might now be happening in particle physics. And I especially want to draw the attention of young people. There have been experts in my field who have written that non-discoveries at the LHC constitute a “nightmare scenario” for particle physics… that there might be nothing for particle physicists to do for a long time. But I want to point out that on the contrary, not only may it not be a nightmare, it might actually represent an extraordinary opportunity. Not discovering the ether opened people’s minds, and eventually opened the door for Einstein to walk through. And if the LHC shows us that particle physics is not described by a natural quantum field theory, it may, similarly, open the door for a young person to show us that our understanding of quantum field theory and naturalness, while as intelligent and sensible and precise as the 19th century understanding of waves, does not apply unaltered to particle physics, and must be significantly revised.

Of course the LHC is still a young machine, and it may still permit additional major discoveries, rendering everything I’ve said here moot. But young people entering the field, or soon to enter it, should not assume that the experts necessarily understand where the field’s future lies. Like FitzGerald and Lorentz, even the most brilliant and creative among us might be suffering from our own hard-won and well-established assumptions, and we might soon need the vision of a brilliant young genius — perhaps a theorist with a clever set of equations, or perhaps an experimentalist with a clever new question and a clever measurement to answer it — to set us straight, and put us onto the right path.

Visiting the University of Maryland

Along with two senior postdocs (Andrey Katz of Harvard and Nathaniel Craig of Rutgers) I’ve been visiting the University of Maryland all week, taking advantage of end-of-academic-term slowdowns to spend a few days just thinking hard, with some very bright and creative colleagues, about the implications of what we have discovered (a Higgs particle of mass 125-126 GeV/c²) and have not discovered (any other new particles or unexpected high-energy phenomena) so far at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC].

The basic questions that face us most squarely are:

Is the naturalness puzzle

  1. resolved by a clever mechanism that adds new particles and forces to the ones we know?
  2. resolved by properly interpreting the history of the universe?
  3. nonexistent due to our somehow misreading the lessons of quantum field theory?
  4. altered dramatically by modifying the rules of quantum field theory and gravity altogether?

If (1) is true, it’s possible that a clever new “mechanism” is required.  (Old mechanisms that remove or ameliorate the naturalness puzzle include supersymmetry, little Higgs, warped extra dimensions, etc.; all of these are still possible, but if one of them is right, it’s mildly surprising we’ve seen no sign of it yet.)  Since the Maryland faculty I’m talking to (Raman Sundrum, Zakaria Chacko and Kaustubh Agashe) have all been involved in inventing clever new mechanisms in the past (with names like Randall-Sundrum [i.e. warped extra dimensions], Twin Higgs, Folded Supersymmetry, and various forms of Composite Higgs), it’s a good place to be thinking about this possibility.  There’s good reason to focus on mechanisms that, unlike most of the known ones, do not lead to new particles that are affected by the strong nuclear force. (The Twin Higgs idea that Chacko invented with Hock-Seng Goh and Roni Harnik is an example.)  The particles predicted by such scenarios could easily have escaped notice so far, and be hiding in LHC data.

Sundrum (some days anyway) thinks the most likely situation is that, just by chance, the universe has turned out to be a little bit unnatural — not a lot, but enough that the solution to the naturalness puzzle may lie at higher energies outside LHC reach.  That would be unfortunate for particle physicists who are impatient to know the answer… unless we’re lucky and a remnant from that higher-energy phenomenon accidentally has ended up at low-energy, low enough that the LHC can reach it.

But perhaps we just haven’t been creative enough yet to guess the right mechanism, or alter the ones we know of to fit the bill… and perhaps the clues are already in the LHC’s data, waiting for us to ask the right question.

I view option (2) as deeply problematic.  On the one hand, there’s a good argument that the universe might be immense, far larger than the part we can see, with different regions having very different laws of particle physics — and that the part we live in might appear very “unnatural” just because that very same unnatural appearance is required for stars, planets, and life to exist.  To be over-simplistic: if, in the parts of the universe that have no Higgs particle with mass below 700 GeV/c², the physical consequences prevent complex molecules from forming, then it’s not surprising we live in a place with a Higgs particle below that mass.   [It's not so different from saying that the earth is a very unusual place from some points of view -- rocks near stars make up a very small fraction of the universe --- but that doesn't mean it's surprising that we find ourselves in such an unusual location, because a planet is one of the few places that life could evolve.]

Such an argument is compelling for the cosmological constant problem.  But it’s really hard to come up with an argument that a Higgs particle with a very low mass (and corresponding low non-zero masses for the other known particles) is required for life to exist.  Specifically, the mechanism of “technicolor” (in which the Higgs field is generated as a composite object through a new, strong force) seems to allow for a habitable universe, but with no naturalness puzzle — so why don’t we find ourselves in a part of the universe where it’s technicolor, not a Standard Model-like Higgs, that shows up at the LHC?  Sundrum, formerly a technicolor expert, has thought about this point (with David E. Kaplan), and he agrees this is a significant problem with option (2).

By the way, option (2) is sometimes called the “anthropic principle”.  But it’s neither a principle nor “anthro-” (human-) related… it’s simply a bias (not in the negative sense of the word, but simply in the sense of something that affects your view of a situation) from the fact that, heck, life can only evolve in places where life can evolve.

(3) is really hard for me to believe.  The naturalness argument boils down to this:

  • Quantum fields fluctuate;
  • Fluctuations carry energy, called “zero-point energy”, which can be calculated and is very large;
  • The energy of the fluctuations of a field depends on the corresponding particle’s mass;
  • The particle’s mass, for the known particles, depends on the Higgs field;
  • Therefore the energy of empty space depends strongly on the Higgs field

Unless one of these five statements is wrong (good luck finding a mistake — every one of them involves completely basic issues in quantum theory and in the Higgs mechanism for giving masses) then there’s a naturalness puzzle.  The solution may be simple from a certain point of view, but it won’t come from just waving the problem away.

(4) I’d love for this to be the real answer, and maybe it is.  If our understanding of quantum field theory and Einstein’s gravity leads us to a naturalness problem whose solution should presumably reveal itself at the LHC, and yet nature refuses to show us a solution, then maybe it’s a naive use of field theory and gravity that’s at fault. But it may take a very big leap of faith, and insight, to see how to jump off this cliff and yet land on one’s feet.  Sundrum is well-known as one of the most creative and fearless individuals in our field, especially when it comes to this kind of thing. I’ve been discussing some radical notions with him, but mostly I’ve been enjoying hearing his many past insights and ideas… and about the equations that go with them.   Anyone can speculate, but it’s the equations (and the predictions, testable at least in principle if not in practice, that you can derive from them) that transform pure speculations into something that deserves the name “theoretical physics”.

Strings: History, Development, Impact

Done: All three parts of my lecture for a general audience on String Theory are up now…

Beyond the Hype: The Weird World of String Theory (Science on Tap, Seattle, WA, September 25, 2006). Though a few years old, this talk is still very topical; it covers the history, development, context and impact of string theory from its earliest beginnings to the (then) present.

Be forewarned: although the audio is pretty good, this was an amateur video taken by one of the organizers of the talk, and because the place was small and totally packed with people, it’s not great quality… but good enough to follow, I think, so I’ve posted it.

  1. Part 1 (10 mins.): String theory’s beginnings in hadron physics and the early attempts to use it as a theory of quantum gravity.
  2. Part 2 (10 mins.): String theory was shown to be a mathematically consistent candidate for a theory of all of quantum gravity and particle physics, and became a really popular idea.
  3. Part 3 (9 mins.): How string theory evolved through the major technical and conceptual advances of the 1990s.

By the way, if you’re interested in other talks I’ve given for a general audience, you can check out my video clips, which include a recent hour-long talk on the Quest for the Higgs Boson.

SEARCHing for New Particles on Long Island

Greetings from Stony Brook’s Simon’s Center, and the SEARCH 2013 workshop. (I reported on the SEARCH 2012 workshop here, here, here and here.) Over the next three days, a small group (about 50) of theoretical particle physicists and experimentalists from ATLAS and CMS (two of the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC]) will be discussing the latest results from the LHC, and brainstorming about what else should be done with the existing LHC data and with future data.

The workshop was organized by three theorists, Raman Sundrum, professor at Maryland (who has opened the day with a characteristically brilliant and inspirational talk about the status of the field and the purpose of the workshop), Patrick Meade, professor at Stony Brook, and Michele Papucci, soon-to-be professor at Michigan.

Of course we’ll be discussing the newly discovered Higgs particle — that discussion will occupy most of today — but we’ll be also looking at many other types of particles, forces and other phenomena that nature might be hiding from us, and how we would be able to uncover them if they exist. There’ve been many dozens of searches done at both ATLAS and CMS, but the experimentalists certainly haven’t had time to try everything plausible — and theorists haven’t yet thought of everything they might try. Workshops like this are aimed at making sure no stones are left unturned in the existing huge pile of data from 2011-2012, and also that we’re fully prepared to deal with the new data, from higher-energy proton-proton collisions, that will start pouring in starting in 2015.

Conclusion of the Higgs Symposium

By almost all measures, the Higgs Symposium at the University of Edinburgh, as part of the new Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics, was a great success.  The only negative was that Professor Peter Higgs himself had a bad cold this week, and had to cancel his talk, as well as missing the majority of the talks by others.  Obviously all of us in attendance were very disappointed not to hear directly from him, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

Other than this big hole in the schedule, the talks given at the symposium seemed to me to form a coherent summary of where we are right now in our understanding of the Higgs field and particle.  They were full of interesting material, and wonderfully complementary to one another.  This motivates me to try to provide, for non-experts, some future articles on what the conference attendees had to say.  But to write such articles well takes time.  So for now, here’s the quick version summarizing the last few talks, along the lines of the summaries I wrote (here and here) of the earlier talks.  The slides from all the talks are posted here.

Here we go: Continue reading

It’s (not) The End of the World

The December solstice has come and gone at 11:11 a.m. London time (6:11 a.m New York time). That’s the moment when the north pole of the Earth points most away from the sun, and the south pole points most toward it. Because it’s followed by a weekend and then Christmas Eve, it marks the end of the 2012 blogging season, barring a major event between now and year’s end. But although 11:11 London time is the only moment of astronomical significance during this day (clearly the universe does not care where humans set our international date line and exactly how we set our time zones, so destruction was never going to be at local midnight — something the media doesn’t seem to get) it obviously wasn’t the end of the world.

A lot of people do put a lot of stock in prophecy, including prophecies of the end of the world that nobody ever made (such as the one not made for today by the Mayans, through their calendar) and others that people made but were wrong (such as those made by Harold Camping last year and by many throughout history who preceded him.) If anyone were any good at prophecy they’d be able to use their special knowledge to become billionaires, so maybe we should be watching Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg and the Koch brothers and people like that. I haven’t heard any rumors of them building bunkers or spaceships yet. Of course at the end of the year they may get a small tax hike, but that wouldn’t be the end of the world.

The Large Hadron Collider [LHC], meanwhile, has triumphantly reached the end of its first run of proton-proton collisions. Goal #1 of the LHC was to allow physicists at the ATLAS and CMS experiments to discover the Higgs particle, or particles, or whatever took their place in nature; and it would appear that, in a smashing success, they have co-discovered one.  But no Higgs particles, or anything like them, will be produced again until 2015. Although the LHC will run for a short while in early 2013, it will do so in a different mode, smashing not protons but the nuclei of lead atoms together, in order to study the properties of extremely hot and dense matter, under conditions the universe hasn’t seen since the earliest stages of the Big Bang that launched the current era of our universe.  Then it will be closed down for repairs and upgrades.  So until 2015, any additional information we’re going to learn about the Higgs particle, or any other unknown particle that might have been produced at the LHC, is going to be obtained by analyzing the data that has been collected in 2011 and 2012. The total amount of data is huge; what was collected in 2012 was about 4.5 times as much as in 2011, and it was taken at 8 TeV of energy per proton-proton collision rather than 7 TeV as in 2011. I can assure you there will be many new things learned from analyzing that data throughout 2013 and 2014.

Of course a lot of people prophesied confidently that we’d discover supersymmetry, or something else dramatic, very early on at the LHC. Boy, were they wrong! Those of us who were cautioning against such optimistic statements are not sure whether to laugh or cry, because of course it would have been great to have such a discovery early in the LHC program. But there was ample reason to believe (despite what other bloggers sometimes say) that even if supersymmetry exists and is accessible to the LHC experiments, discovering it could take a lot longer than just two years!  For instance, see this paper written in 2006 pointing out that the search strategies being planned for seeking supersymmetry might fail in the presence of a few extra lightweight particles not predicted in the minimal variants of supersymmetry. As far as I can tell at present, this very big loophole has only partly been closed by the LHC studies done up to now. The same loophole applies for other speculative ideas, including certain variants of LHC-accessible extra dimensions. I am hopeful that these loopholes can be closed in 2013 and 2014, with additional analysis on the current data, but until they are, you should be very cautious believing those who claim that reasonable variants of LHC-accessible supersymmetry (meaning “natural variants of supersymmetry that resolve the hierarchy problem”) are ruled out by the LHC experiments. It’s just not true. Not yet. The only classes of theories that have been almost thoroughly ruled out by LHC data are those predict on general grounds that there should be no observable Higgs particle at all (e.g. classic technicolor).

While we’re on the subject, I’ve been looking back at how I did on prophecy this year. It’s been a remarkably good year, probably my best ever — though admittedly I only made very easy (though not necessarily common) predictions. First, the really easy one:  I assured you, as did most of my colleagues, that 2012 would be the Year of the Higgs — at least, the Year of the Simplest Possible Higgs particle, called the “Standard Model Higgs”. It would be the year when Phase 1 of the Higgs Search would end — when we’d either find a Higgs particle of Standard Model type (or something looking vaguely like it), or, if not, we’d know we’d have to move to a more aggressive search in Phase 2, in which we’d look for more complicated versions of the Higgs particle that would have been much harder to find. We started the year with ambiguous hints of the Higgs particle, too flimsy to be sure of, but certainly tantalizing, at around a mass of 125 GeV/c2. In July the hints turned into a discovery — somewhat faster than expected for a Standard Model Higgs particle, because the rate for this particle to appear in collisions that produce two photons was higher than anticipated. The excess in the photon signal means either the probability for the Higgs particle to decay to photons is larger than predicted for a Higgs of Standard Model type, or both CMS and ATLAS experienced a fortunate statistical fluctuation that made the discovery easier. We still don’t know which it was; though we’ll know more by March, this ambiguity may remain with us until 2015.

One prophecy I made all the way back at the beginning of this blog, July 2011, was that the earliest search strategy for the Higgs, through its decays to a lepton, anti-lepton, neutrino and anti-neutrino, wouldn’t end up being crucial in the discovery; it was just too difficult. (In this experimental context, “lepton” refers only to “electron” or “muon”; taus don’t count, for technical reasons.) In the end, I said, it would be decays of the Higgs to two photons and to two lepton/anti-lepton pairs that would be the critical ones, because they would provide a clean signal that would be uncontroversial. And that prophesy was correct; the photon-based and lepton-based searches were the signals that led to discovery.

Now we’ve reached December, and the data seems to imply that except possibly for this overabundance of photons, which still tantalizes us, the various measurements of how the Higgs-like particle is produced and decays are starting to agree, to a precision which is still only moderate, with the predictions of the Standard Model for a Higgs of this mass. Fewer and fewer experts are still suggesting that this is not a Higgs particle. But it will be some years yet — 2018 or later — before measurements are precise enough to start convincing people that this Higgs particle is really of Standard Model type. Many variants of the Standard Model, with new particles and forces, predict that the difference of the real Higgs from a Standard Model Higgs may be subtle, with deviations at the ten percent level or even less. Meanwhile, other Higgs-like particles, with different masses and different properties, might be hiding in the data, and it may take quite a while to track them down. Many years of data collecting and data analysis lie ahead, in Phase 2 of the Higgs search.

Another prophecy I made at the beginning of the year was that Exotic Decays of the Higgs would be a high priority for 2012. You might think this prophesy was wrong, because in fact, so far, there have been very few searches at ATLAS, CMS and LHCb for such decays. But the challenge that required prioritizing these decays wasn’t data analysis; it was the problem of even collecting the data. The problem is that many exotic decays of the Higgs would lead to events that might not be selected by the all-important trigger system that determines which tiny fraction of the LHC’s collisions to store permanently for analysis! At the beginning of 2012 there was a risk that some of these processes would have been dumped by the trigger and irretrievably lost from the 2012 data, making future searches for such decays impossible or greatly degraded. At a hadron collider like the LHC, you have to think ahead! If you don’t consider carefully the analyses you’ll want to do a year or two from now, you may not set the trigger properly today. So although the priority for data analysis in 2012 was to find the Higgs particle and measure its bread-and-butter properties, the fact that the Higgs has come out looking more or less Standard Model-like in 2012 means that focusing on exotic possibilities, including exotic decays, will be one of the obvious places to look for something new, and thus a very high priority for data analysis, in 2013 and 2014. And that’s why, for the trigger — for the collection of the data — exotic decays were a very high priority for 2012. Indeed, one significant use of the new strategy of delayed data streaming at ATLAS and of data parking at CMS (two names for the same thing) was to address this priority. [My participation in this effort, working with experimentalists and with several young theorists, was my most rewarding project of 2012.]  As I explained to you, a Higgs particle with a low mass, such as 125 GeV/c2, is very sensitive to the presence of new particles and forces that are otherwise very difficult to detect, and it easily could exhibit one or more types of exotic decays.  So there will be a lot of effort put into looking for signs of exotic decays in 2013 and 2014! I’m very excited about all the work that lies ahead of us.

Now, the prophecy I’d like to make, but cannot — because I do not have any special insight into the answer — is on the question of whether the LHC will make great new discoveries in the future, or whether the LHC has already made its last discovery: a Higgs particle of Standard Model type. Even if the latter is the case, we will need years of data from the LHC in order to distinguish these two possibilities; there’s no way for us to guess. It’s clear that Nature’s holding secrets from us.  We know the Standard Model (the equations we use to describe all the known particles and forces) is not a complete theory of nature, because it doesn’t explain things like dark matter (hey, were dark matter particles perhaps discovered in 2012?), and it doesn’t tell us why, for example, there are six types of quarks, or why the heaviest quark has a mass that is more than 10,000 times larger than the mass of the lightest quarks, etc. What we don’t know is whether the answers to those secrets are accessible to the LHC; does it have enough energy per collision, and enough collisions, for the job?  The only way to find out is to run the LHC, and to dig thoroughly through its data for any sign of anything amiss with the predictions of the Standard Model. This is very hard work, and it will take the rest of the decade (but not until the end of the world.)

In the meantime, please do not fret about the quiet in the tunnel outside Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC will be back, bigger and better (well, at least with more energy per collision) in 2015. And while we wait during the two year shutdown, the experimentalists at ATLAS, CMS, and LHCb will be hard at work, producing many new results from the 2011 and 2012 proton collision data! Even the experiments CDF and DZero from the terminated Tevatron are still writing new papers. In short, fear not: not only isn’t the December solstice of 2012 the end of the world, it doesn’t even signal a temporary stop to the news about the Higgs particle!

—-

One last personal note (just for those with some interest in my future.)

Quick Post: More on Extra Dimensions and Gravity

Quick post today:

First, there were rumors about the Higgs particle search on Monday that got a lot of attention.  Caveat emptor: the experimentalists can’t possibly have their data in presentable form yet, so the rumors can’t be correct in every detail.   But if you are interested in a reasonable analysis of what the rumors would roughly mean if they were roughly correct, click here.  (I don’t personally see the point of doing lots of detailed analysis based on incomplete information, so if that’s what you want, I’m afraid you’ll have to find that on other blogs.)

Second, I’m still working on my sequence of extra dimensions articles; I’ve been working on a new one that explains what we can learn from Newton’s law of gravity (and Coulomb’s law for electric forces.)  This article is still a bit preliminary (still needs a very careful proofread) but if you’re interested you can take a look and comment on what you find confusing.

Tying Off Loose Ends

Reminder: New York, Saturday June 16th at 2pm, I’ll be giving a public lecture (click here for details): THE EINSTEIN OBSESSION: SCIENCE, MYTH AND PUBLIC PERCEPTION.

I’ve been doing a little work on my extra dimensions articles, adding one that describes how we know experimentally that the ordinary particles we’re made of (and most of the others we know about) can’t be moving in more than three spatial dimensions — more precisely, that any additional dimensions must be smaller in extent than 1/100th or so of the distance across a proton. The first half of the article is drafted; the second half, on what we know about dimensions in which no known particles can move but which are accessible to gravity and gravitons, will come soon, probably next week.  Comments and questions welcome as always.

Meanwhile, following up on Friday’s post about the End of the OPERA Not-Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Story: a paper has appeared by the LVD and OPERA experiments explaining how they worked together to confirm that OPERA’s two known problems (a fiber-optic cable connection and a clock running off-speed) did in fact cause their faulty measurement of neutrino speeds. This information was made public (in large part) back in March and I wrote about it in detail here.