Of Particular Significance

A Birthday of Particular Significance

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 06/29/2012

Today is the anniversary of this website, born June 29, 2011. And it’s just in time for what could be the biggest news in particle physics in many years.  If we’re lucky, on July 4th the teams that run the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] will reveal strong evidence for a Higgs particle of some type [for more info and background click here]. Or, if we’re equally lucky, they’ll reveal strong evidence ruling out the simplest type of Higgs. Only if the results are ambiguous will we have to wait yet again for another six months of data.

Why does this website exist?  For one thing, I thought perhaps I could help address the desire of many in the public to understand more about particle physics and about the process of doing science.  Also, I was concerned that if the Higgs did not show up in 2012, there was a big risk of public and media misinterpretation of the scientific situation, which I hoped I could help counter.  And with the recession taking down my long-standing LHC research plans, I was looking for some non-scientific way to be useful.

The year has been a mixed bag.  The site’s been quoted several times in the media, and science journalists have told me they’ve found it useful.  On the other hand, the site’s readership, which leapt to about 2000 hits a day early on, has stayed fixed at that level for more than eight months. Then there are the controversies. I don’t think one can run a useful modern website without a blog that reports the news in the field, and to properly address important issues with real integrity requires one to take unpopular stands on controversial issues. Unlike some of the other more populist bloggers out there, who seem to thrive on this kind of thing, I hate it. And finally, communicating particle physics is fun and rewarding, but also problematic.  Much of my readership has also read Brian Greene, Lisa Randall, Lenny Susskind, and the like… and will (or should!) soon be reading Sean Carroll’s upcoming book on the LHC and the Higgs… and all of us well-meaning physicists are explaining the same things in slightly different ways.  I’m worrying we’re creating, collectively, a lot of confusion.

For now, the website will continue as is, through the LHC Higgs presentations and into the follow-up period in early July. If strong evidence for the Higgs emerges, the immediate dangers that helped motivate the site’s existence will recede for a few years; there will be general agreement, as there should be, that the LHC has been a resounding success and has a bright scientific future ahead of it. In that case I’ll take a break from reporting all but the most important news (I recommend Resonaances and Cosmic Variance as news sources) and instead will focus on giving the website a needed reorganization; right now it’s very hard to navigate. As for whether the site has a future, and what form that future might take, that will take some thought.

So, a quiet Happy Birthday to this website Of Particular Significance. And then let’s look forward to the news that really matters — the news from Nature — and get the cases of champagne ready, in case the time has finally come to pop the corks.

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51 Responses

  1. I think to increase your site’s visibility, one way would be to get it to move up on google searches for terms related to physics. Adding a physics-specific term to the blog title would help (“particular” and “significance” would not be seen by the search engine as physics-related). Also adding links to non-blog “sciency” sites (CERN press releases hosted on cern’s site, Nature or Science news articles and the like) would help. These are probably low-hanging fruit.

    I am not sure I agree detecting a standard-model Higgs would fire people up about physics; I think you are looking at that from a physicist’s point of view. I think a non-standard Higgs would more reliably enthuse at least the sci-fi type.

  2. Hello Matt!

    Just wanted to thank You for Your outstanding work on this site!
    I sincerely hope You find a way to keep it up. You should get
    funding from the larger establishments doing physics, since Your
    blog really does an excellent job of making the jist of their results understandable
    to the rest of us in the scientific and engineering community. And that in a much better way than they manage themselves. I think You may under estimate the impact of Your site. 2000 regular visitors may not seem so much, but the the people reading Your blog are likely to be well educated and relatively influential people, so it is like the rings on water effect. In the seventies i always read Scientific American, since their articles were about rigth level for me, like I feel Your site presently is. Sometimes it may be better to reach the right audience instead of becoming to popular. I believe Your site is better known and presently has more impact than Your stats show.
    Hard science, and sadly technology as well, is not the hot subject especially among younger people today. It is important to encourage those who show an interest and talent in these fields and Your site is a very unique example of doing this very well.

    Best Regards from Sweden

  3. Matt, your site is wonderful – for a lay person with a science background it is a great resource. Reorganize but please don’t change much!

  4. Congratulations!!!
    Prof. Strassler, your site is very, very helpful in understanding the complicated results in particle physics. Thank you for your time to make things clear!

  5. I am wandering Proffecors: What does this “type” of sub-atomic partical weigh? If, the evidence of this “type” of partical is there, we should be able to weigh them, first. Do Quarks have a weight? What does a Higgins weigh?
    I do think the reason we are looking for some thing smaller, is we did not think to weigh the bonds between, and in the neclouses necleotides. This is just energy, and not any other particule for to look for when looking for how the atom is made up. There is just the “energy” that was not weighed, in your verson of the atom. There is no way to account for the continueing resurch, for these nucliotides unless we have there wieghts! Finding the right strings is what we wanted to do, right? Enough of them and we have a
    string theroey. I do this.

  6. Dear Prof. Strassler,
    I`m still worried about the sad sentence of yours I quoted above …
    Yoe wrote some time ago that you have still so much important work (improving trigger strategies, searches for new physics, etc) for the for the LHC but too few colleagues to help you etc…
    Is this now all in vain as your research plans are gone? How bad does this negatively impact the results that can be gained in the future …? Cant you get funding for the research you wanted to do somewhere else, maybe outsice the US (where fundamental physics is fading)?
    I hope you are not leave particle physics completely, that would be a big loss … :-/
    Anyway, I wish you all the best for the future, whatever you plan to do 🙂
    (If my comment is too curious, just delete it …)

  7. Prof. Strassler,
    Your blog is truly unique: a window into the world of a practicing physicist, working on cutting edge theoretical physics, with a privileged view into cutting edge experiments in as close to real time as one can get who is not on one of those teams. Add to that your penchant for being honest about both the state of those experiments and of our state of knowledge of particle physics, and this blog becomes invaluable. Rather than pushing pet theories or glossing over issues, your honesty and openness is refreshing. And consistently maintaining a strictly scientific approach – no metaphysical BS, despite being repeatedly baited by some commenters – keeps your explanations amazingly “down to earth” in a field where hyperbole and extrapolation are all too easy to do when communicating to non-scientists. So belated “Happy Birthday”, and please keep up this excellent work.

  8. Dear Matt,

    I am finishing my first year in grad school for theoretical particle cosmology. I enjoy your blog a lot. Some of the conceptual background posts are really good–I especially enjoyed the one about ‘what is really inside a proton’ (which a lot of ‘popular’ accounts don’t discuss at all) and the discussion of virtual particles and extra dimensions. You give uniquely level headed and detailed discussions for this format. So I do hope this site continues to exist in some form or another, I think you have the most detailed and thoughtful analyses of physics news, as well as very thorough descriptions of the background material. Other blogs are easier to read, but to me this one is particularly substantive and I always appreciate reading your take on things and recommend it to others.

    All the best,


  9. Matt,
    how sure is it that the measured background in the Higgs searches does not itself have a bump at 125 GeV?

  10. I am a little late in getting in on this discussion but I need to let people know some thing. There is a problem in thinking there are any other particles other then just the ones we know of to be the neutron, the proton and the electron. These particles are moving when in the atom. The electrons and the nucleus are moving at light speed. So they are heavier. This is added weight. And then there is the weight of the “bounds” between neutrons and the “bounds” between protons. This is not yet in your equation. Plus the weight of the bounds moving at light speed. This adds weight. In conclusion there are no Quarks even no other particles after you have done the math right. After you have broken the atom up, then the atom brakes into it seems regular predicable subatomic particles other then the ones we all ready knew of.

  11. 2,000 daily readers might be a lot for a physics blog. My guess is that 2,000 is roughly the number of people in the world who would be thrilled to receive a HIggs Boson T-shirt as a birthday gift.

      1. I am wondering you all, what does this type of partical weigh? Quarks or Higgins? I have seen the weight of an electron at rests weight, and it does move around the speed of light so, it is heavier of course. What does a Quarks weigh? Or a Higgins? My equation does not let any other partical into it’s realm other then electrons and neutrons and protons and the bonds between these protons and neutrons. No room for any other sub-atomic particals.? To look for these particals you might want to weigh them all so, right?

  12. Hi Matt,

    Happy anniversary — I hope you are still proud of what you have done here, since I think it is a big achievement.
    I really hope you will continue blogging, because I really enjoy reading it and have learned a lot form it. Also, I know absolutely no comparably good science blog, also not in related fields, and I do not think the two you quote come close, actually 🙂 — yours is way more pedagogical, thought-through, and honestly also much better written.

    Therefore, I really hope you can find a wider audience. Can you not try to get the CERN public relation page to link to your blog? For sure the LHC must have a huge interest in the existence of such in-depth and at the same time very accessible information on the web.

    Maybe your blog just needs more aggressive marketing and referencing from other sites.

  13. Thank you all for the nice birthday wishes, for the many positive comments, and for the suggestions. I can’t make any promises about the future, certainly not until well after IndependHiggs Day. But I can assure you that maintaining the website somehow is a priority, as long as I can find a way to reach a wider audience; that’s the key to its future.

    1. If discovery or near discovery of the Higgs removes the worry about a public backlash, perhaps you could move into writing more speculative stuff about potential BSM physics compatible with the LHC data? There will of course be some deviations from SM expectations in the data, random or not, and it would be interesting to know what kind of models could explain these deviations.

      To reach a wider audience you could ask your existing one about what they’d like to read. Compared to other blogs, your strength is (imo) in explaining things well to laymen. The post on extra dimensions comes to mind. If it’s possible to explain potential BSM physics in an easily accessible way, that could be a way to bring more readers.

  14. Well, I, for one, would hate to see it go. Since it’s an avocation for you, you’ll really have to decide based on whether you can stand to keep it up or not. But this site is really first-rate. I have read Susskind and Randall, and their contributions certainly aren’t enough to make yours unnecessary. I was hoping to see a book from you eventually, although perhaps you had ruled that out from the start.

  15. Hi Matt,

    Happy Anniversary

    As a long time blogger myself, I have come to rely on the scientists in the know who stay on top of the scientific information. I am learning from you about the correct perspectives in science. I must say you have helped in this direction besides your reporting of current scientific events.

    So I hope you will continue in that direction as well.

    I can say that this being your first year all personal motivations especially the one about serving the public can be the toughest, but to me, the one that is well rooted in helping to bring society forward with regards to that science. It can be a thankless job as you know. I have to say that the growth here also does require a self motivation toward that public service. A self dedication to the openness of knowledge sharing. These to me are honorable attributes above and beyond your job as a scientist. So thank you again.

    All the best for the future.

  16. A belated wishes and a big thank you for putting in so much of effort and time for science. Although I am not a scientist nor a student, it keeps me informed about the developments in particle physics with out any prejudice, which I respect most in your blog. Thank you once again

  17. You have a special gift for explaining high level concepts without oversimplifying them. It may limit your audience to ‘only’ 2000. But how many papers get that many citations? Slow down if you must,but please don’t quit. Also, your website design is a lot nicer than most.

  18. Matt,

    Like many of the people above, I have enjoyed your blog. I am certainly not a physicist, but have a particular interest in high energy particle research and in some other areas such as gravity. You provide information in a way that at least I can understand … as I do not have a strong foundation in mathematics.

  19. Matt,

    Thank you for blogging. I am a science geek that became and engineer and now an executive in business. We live in a time where those of us the went a different path can stay informed and better follow in more or less real time science as it advances. That is only due to what you and others like you do. I can think of a list to thank in many fields! But now I thank you on the birthday of your blog.

    I have always been intested in science, but now you inspire me to try to inspire others to join in. I think the first to enegage such was Sean at Cosmic Variance (FKA PU), PZ at Pharyngula, but you are in that special elite crowd in MHO.

    Thanks George

  20. I keep coming back to your site to get more info.

    I hope you get time to tell us about the discoveries/properties of “The Perfect Liquid”

  21. Congrats on a year – you do a great job explaining and narrating the events of particle physics! A candid analysis from a real scientist such as you is always refreshing. Remember – Illegitimi non carborundum!!

  22. It’s important to tell the truth, no matter what. Popularity contests should left to the mobs searching for leaders to herd them towards those stampedes they live by.

    I have very few readers on my own site, but I search for the truth, no holds barred. New truths never comes from the mobs. 2,000 hits a day would be a dream for me. But i don’t need to dream to do the right thing.

    Take for example the so called “multiverse”. It is of course an astounding mistake, where high minded philosophy, armed with lots of science, can say a lot. But putting down the multiverse does not please the children, they want to believe in Father Christmas, and have their incoherent physics served as the theory of everything, thanks to a strike of the magic wand while intoning sortileges.

    So please keep on going with the good work. Science lives off the public. So the public has to be served delicious science it can dine on. It’s not just a civic duty, it’s only way science can work, in the fullness of time.

    On the edge, much good work became popular, in a sometimes very distant future. Maybe this site will influence dramatically only one, and that one youngster, or politician, someday, will make all the difference.
    CERN’S LHC is an enormous machine, but, first of all, an enormous taxpayers’ monument to the glory of a society that believes in science. Let’s make efforts to keep it that way.
    Patrice Ayme

  23. Matt, I am profoundly grateful for your careful and thoughtful explanations, both of the physics of elementary particles, and the realities of running scientific experiments. Your writing has been a gift. I hope you will have the time to continue it in appropriate ways.

  24. Professor Strassler thank you so much for the time and effort you have put into this site. As an avid follower of all things physics with a layman’s background your insightful way of relaying difficult concepts has been very refreshing. Congratulations and please keep up the excellent work!

  25. Happy birthday to OPS, and many happy returns.

    Matt, 2,000 regular readers may not sound like much to you. but I know some long-time newspaper editors who would be grateful to have that many. For the most part, they operate weeklies in small towns and counties, and their newspapers and websites may not win journalism’s top prizes, but they’re prized and valued in their communities, and sometimes earn a reputation which extends far beyond their hometowns. In somewhat the same way, Of Particular Significance fills a niche in the community of people who have an interest in physics. Myself, I’m a 63-year-old semi-retired newspaper editor who lives in “Mayberry” (no kidding; this is Andy Griffith’s hometown). I took my one and only physics class in 1966 — the year before R.R. Wilson and his colleagues founded Fermilab — at a high school just 10 miles northeast of Argonne National Lab. Despite that apparent lack of background, I’ve always had an interest in science, particularly the “hard” sciences, and I’ve made it a point to search out reliable sources that go beyond the popular-media reports and stretch my mind. That’s what appeals to me about Of Particular Significance: you do a good job of explaining things that many people like me have difficulty understanding, and I always learn something new. You’re topical and timely, especially your ongoing reports about the search for the Higgs boson. Also, I particularly like your habit of linking back to your earlier posts that explain a concept or line of research in detail. So, please keep writing and I’ll keep telling my friends — the ones who already read Greene, Randall, Tyson, Krauss, etc. — that there’s another physicist whose blog they should follow.

  26. Congrats on 1 year! While I don’t always understand 100% of you’re articles the majority of them have helped me wrap my head around various subjects I’ve read about over the years. Specifically, your series of articles on extra dimensions was brilliantly done and I was blown away by how intuitively you explained everything. I’d love to see more articles of that nature on here regardless of how this Higgs business turns out, it’d be a shame not to have new articles from you pop up in my RSS feed.

  27. Congratulations from an octogenarian who has learned much from your insightful articles. By all means continue!

  28. Congratulations, Matt, and thanks. I highly appreciate your blog. Have learned so much from you.

  29. Cheers to this blog-site on turning one! This blog has cleared up many of my misconceptions! And more importantly gave me a fleeting chance to stay connected to a subject I have always loved – Physics!!! I have learned much from the articles and discussions here. So, it would be a shame if things went quite post July 4th, and I will miss the regular updates coming from here.
    So Prof. Strassler, I hope you will consider your readership, though limited it may seem, and continue to keep us honest on our (often limited) understanding of particle Physics.

  30. Happy birthday, Matt. It is amazing how much accomplishment you have done in a short year.

    You are a great physicist. I am happy for the opportunities of being able to discuss some issues with you and thank you for your wisdom and patience.

    Up to this point, physics is unwilling to accommodate any other knowledge (philosophy and other nature sciences) to play any park in its epistemology. In a TV interview (http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/1367 by Jim Holt [The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine]), John Leslie (a well-known philosopher) emphasized that the moral law is the cause for the emerging of the universe. I am agreeing with Dr. Leslie 100% with the following reasons.

    The evolution of this universe has four pop-outs (creations).
    1. The pop out of space-time.
    2. The pop out of biological lives.
    3. The pop out of intelligence.
    4. The pop out of morality.

    While there are four pop-outs, there is only one pop-out law. Thus, John Leslie’s view that this universe was created by Moral laws is as good as the view that it was popped out with physics laws.

    Dr. Leslie is not a dinosaur or a Martian. Yet, no physicist gives a damn about his view. At this juncture that you are thinking about a new direction for your great website, I would like to invite you to open the mind of the physics epistemology, that is, going beyond the gadget mentality. The human wisdom is unlimited while the capability of any gadget is always limited.

  31. Congratulations on one year Matt. I think I’ve only commented once before, but just to reiterate: as a somewhat literate reader I’ve found this to be the best blog out there for keeping up to date with developments and also solidifying my background knowledge. Whatever your motivations, I can only hope that you will continue.

  32. Hello Matt!

    I’d like to properly express my gratitude for your work on this website. I really appreciate your level-headedness, and your sound attitude to scientific progress. I really enjoy reading your in-depth articles about how we understand concepts of modern quantum theory. I value most of all your work on clearing up misconceptions. I believe you have a talent for explaining particle physics without lying about it, which was the spirit of Feynman’s way of popular physics.

    I’d like to encourage you to continue your work on this site. There are precious few who do it right.

    Yours: Adam,
    graduate student in particle physics

  33. Well Happy Birthday! (Feliz cumpleaños ). This site has been of enormous help to me; has given me more understanding, clarification, and stronger desires to pursuit the beautiful field of physics -astrophysics- so thank you very much professor!!!! I am looking forward to what the LHC will announce!!!

  34. Happy birthday, Of Particular Significance!

    Please continue to add ARTICLES, whatever else may change. Yes, some reorganization/-categorization of the articles would be helpful, but even if your motivation and/or ability to regularly blog recedes, KEEP THE ARTICLES COMING!

    I’ve found few (if any) other sources of physics for laypeople that offer as much insight as this place does, consistently striking that right balance between detail and explanatory clarity. You assume that your readers are ignorant but curious and intelligent, and that goes a long way. I find Frank Close’s books likewise extremely informative and clear (I’d love to hear your thoughts on them, by the way), but because of YOUR work, I sometimes notice that he’s telling me a “little white lie.”

    This site is awesome.

  35. “And with the recession taking down my long-standing LHC research plans, I was looking for some non-scientific way to be useful.”

    I saw you are on academic leave at the moment. Does that mean you are not returning to being a faculty member at Rutgers?

  36. There is also osmosis to consider. The readers of this site will no doubt discuss Higgs and LHC with friends and colleagues.

    There is such a lot of misinformation floating around concerning particle physics, I think your efforts in constructing this site which we can trust to convey the real facts has a value well beyond the 2000 hits per day.

  37. Matt, how has your perception of the likelyhood of the Higgs being discovered/rule-out changed over the past year?

    For example, last year I recall that you seemed amazed at how quickly the mass range of the Higgs was reduced, even with 1/fb from the LHC, yet here we are this year with 12/fb and *possibly* on the threshold of discovery.

  38. I am pleased to be one of the first to wish the site a very happy birthday. Looking back over the past 12 months all your hard work on the site has enabled me to improved my understanding of particle physics enormously and given me the confidence to read and try and understand so much more than I could have dreamt of a year ago. Also as someone who started learning physics at school back in the early 1960s I have had to unlearn many “facts” and half truths and now look on the world of particle physics afresh with “the scales fallen from my eyes” at the risk of quoting a biblical reference (Acts ix.18).

    It has clearly been a great labour for you to create such a comprehensive and carefully explained body of knowledge and it would make a great book in the future.

  39. “And with the recession taking down my long-standing LHC research plans, I was looking for some non-scientific way to be useful.”

    Dear Prof. Strassler,
    this sounds very sad in my ears, does it mean that you can no longer do particle physics research you like yourself? If the prospects in the US are too bad, maybe you can go to some other place where fundamental physics is appreciated more …? There are certainly still enough useful and enjoyable things for you to do and find out 😉

    And of course I want to say happy birthday to “Of particular Significance” :-D.
    It is such an amazingly good site to learn stuff, read about what is going on in fundamental physics. I like the style of this site, your clear explanations, and your important voice of reason so very much 🙂

    I wish that as a birthday gift the, the Independence Day conference will finally announce discovery of the 125 MeV higgs and show nice hints of a not so standard behaviour of it that would make both theorists and experimentalists happy and busy during some future decades 🙂

    And please, please, please, keep this wonderful site going and growing as you find time for it and think it is appropriate 😀

    Cheers !

  40. Happy anniversary, Matt!

    I like your blog very much. You cover particle physics at a deeper level than the usual suspects, which makes it a unique resource to physicists in other fields, to science writers, and to the laymen who would like to know more.

    Don’t fret about the readership numbers. You have chosen your own model of reaching out to the public and I hope that you stay with it, erring on the side of accuracy. If nothing else, you will keep the pop-sci writers on their toes.

    If you asked for suggestions I would recommend an occasional guest post by your colleagues in particle physics. These posts can provide an additional perspective and generate further commentary from you and others.


    Oleg T

  41. Congrats! Most of this stuff is way over my head (I do try, though!) and I still love it.

    I appreciate what you do!


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