For those of you who subscribe to New Scientist, their magazine’s cover story this week is a feature entitled “THE AMAZING THEORY OF (ALMOST) EVERYTHING”. In the feature is an overview of the Standard Model (which describes all known fields and particles, excepting gravity, with amazing accuracy, but leaves a plethora of puzzles unaddressed) and includes a final section (edited by Abby Beall) with short articles by six scientists about their current views regarding the Standard Model, among them myself. [This website’s introductory article on the Standard Model is here; see also here.] . . .
The other five scientists who contributed are
- Jon Butterworth, a senior physicist at the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), well-known for his public outreach in the UK, and the author of several books for general readers about physics;
- Adam Keshavarzi, a physicist at the g-2 experiment measuring the magnetic properties of the muon (and finding a result that deviates slightly from the current Standard Model prediction);
- Clare Burrage, Surjeet Rajendran and Emily Adlam, three accomplished theoretical physicists with highly creative and wide-ranging approaches to the problems of the Standard Model. They’re younger and much more involved in the details of possible solutions than I am, so keep an eye on what they’re doing.
The experimenters, of course, are hoping their experiments will shed some new light on the puzzles that the Standard Model leaves open. I don’t want to get into those details today, but I’ll come back to the g-2 experiment at some point soon.
In my brief contribution to the feature, I make simple points concerning the following issue. So far, other than the Higgs boson, the LHC hasn’t discovered any new elementary particles or other dramatic unexpected effects. This poses a conceptual crisis, because there were strong arguments (based on quantum field theory and on experiments) that Higgs bosons shouldn’t appear alone. That crisis both justifies and motivates the work by professors Burrage, Rajendran and Adlam, along with other young physicists.
In their articles, the other theorists discuss their approaches. Rajendran, whose work has covered many research areas, examines the potential role of new experiments aimed at finding evidence of particles whose interactions with all known particles are extremely weak. Burrage, thinking along similar lines, describes a subtle form of new force whose effects depend on the environment that it is in, and which can’t be observed without specially designed experiments, including ones that she and her colleagues have proposed. Adlam has a more radical and more speculative proposal: that not only is our way of thinking about time wrong (which by itself is plausible, given how confusing time is to us), our misunderstanding of it may have an impact even on the Standard Model.
As of yet, neither they nor anyone else seems to have an exceptionally compelling idea. But out of these new lines of thought, intriguing proposals for entirely new types of experiments are emerging. This all to the good; as is often said, we should never let a crisis go to waste. If our current confusion leads to a novel set of experimental questions about the world, that’s real progress. And if one of those new experiments turns up something no one (or almost no one) was expecting, that’s priceless.