For me, one of the great pleasures of scientific research is the small, focused “workshop”, where a few scientists (typically 20 — 40 faculty, postdoctoral researches and students) assemble for a day or two to discuss a particular topic in detail. Presentations are typically short and often quite informal, and there’s lots of time for discussion built in to the schedule. The best workshops, of course, are those where the quality of the science and the knowledge, experience and skill of the participants is exceptional. I was fortunate to enjoy such a workshop yesterday at Imperial College in London, one of Britain’s finest scientific institutions. About half the participants were experimentalists from the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the other half theorists like myself (one of whom is also on the ATLAS experiment at the LHC.)
Another great pleasure in doing science, at least in my field, is its international nature. The participants from yesterday’s workshop included scientists from at least seven countries and three continents, many of whom are now working in a country that is not their native land. Add to this diversity of cultures, appearances and accents some lively personalities, good senses of humor, and high quality science, and you have the ingredients for a very serious workshop that is a very serious form of fun, followed by much less serious fun when the workshop is over and everyone who can stick around goes out to a pub, a restaurant, and then another pub.
The workshop was focused on the searches at the CMS experiment for supersymmetry (a speculative but popular suggestion for what might lie beyond the known particles, and might be the solution to the hierarchy problem.) I should add that I haven’t written nearly enough about other possible solutions to the hierarchy problem, mainly for lack of time; they will come eventually. I’ve focused on it because it’s been in the news at lot, because of various overstatements by physicists that have shown up on the blogs and various places in the media, saying that this summer’s results from the Large Hadron Collider show that supersymmetry is basically ruled out. So far, every expert in the subject I have spoken to agrees with me (and I would consider myself only a moderate expert) that this is simply not the case. There are huge loopholes (learn about a few of them here) in the claim that “supersymmetry is virtually ruled out” that you could drive a supersymmetric truck through, and there’s lots of work left to do if we are to assure ourselves that neither supersymmetry, nor anything like it, is in LHC data.
Discussions at yesterday’s workshop were focused on understanding what has and hasn’t yet been looked for in the search for supersymmetry — where are the largest and most compelling loopholes, and how do we start to close them? Here’s the problem: we have a vast continent of variants of supersymmetry (and other models that might give similar experimental signals) that we have to search for; we have only a few thousand experimentalists who can form a few dozen search parties; so we need to know: what are the biggest and most fertile unexplored regions, and what are the most efficient search strategies?
The workshop opened with a couple of talks by two experimentalists from CMS, the first addressing the question “what have we done so far?” and the second “ what are the issues/concerns for the future?”. The rest of the short talks came from theorists, with very diverse and complementary points of view. I personally found the discussion and exchange of information especially profitable. The challenge now is to convert this exchange of information into a proposed strategy. That requires follow-up and a certain amount of organization, not a simple matter when everyone is so incredibly busy — and this will be my focus for today, as I remain in London.
Needless to say there was some conversation after the workshop about the OPERA experiment and its claim of early-arrival neutrinos. The level of skepticism is extremely high. I’ll post about that separately.