With a headline like that, you probably think this is a parody. But in fact, I’m dead serious. Not only that, the discovery was made in the 1960s. Due to an accident of history, the physicists involved just didn’t realize it back then.
That said, there are profound problems with this headline. But the headlines we’ve seen this week, along the lines that “Physicists create a baby wormhole in the laboratory”, are actually WORSE than this one.
It is more accurate to say that “string theory and extra dimensions were discovered experimentally in the 1960s” than to say that “a baby wormhole was created in a lab in the early 2020s.”
And now I’m going to show you why. As you’ll see in this post and the next, the two claims are related.
This has been an exceptional few days, and I’ve had no time to breathe, much less blog. In pre-covid days, visits to the laboratories at CERN or Fermilab were always jam-packed with meetings, both planned and spontaneous, and with professional talks by experts visiting the labs. But many things changed during the pandemic. The vitality … Read more
The blog’s been quiet recently, thanks to a series of unfortunate events, not the least of which were my first (known) Covid-19 infection and an ongoing struggle with a bureaucracy within the government of Massachusetts. But meanwhile there is some good news: it seems I will someday have a book published. More on that another time.
Meanwhile I have also been doing some science. Recent efforts included presenting at a workshop on the potential capabilities of the Future Circular Collider [FCC], a possible successor to the Large Hadron Collider [LHC]. Honestly, my own feeling is that the FCC is an unfortunate distraction from important LHC activities. For my part I remain focused on the latter, and on trying to remind everyone just how much remains to do with the LHC data sets from previous years.
Visiting the LPC at Fermilab
Toward that end, I’ll be at the Fermilab National Accelerator this week, near Chicago. I’ll be visiting their LHC Physics Center [LPC], which is the major US hub for the CMS experiment at the LHC. (CMS is one of the LHC’s two general purpose experiments, the other being ATLAS; these are the experiments that discovered the Higgs particle.)
A few days after Russia invaded Ukraine (I will not call it a “war,” as that might offend Czar Vlad and his friends) for the nth time, my thoughts turned to the consequences for the CERN laboratory and for upcoming research at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC]. It was clear that Putin would blackmail Europe using his oil and gas supplies, leading to a spike in energy prices and a corresponding spike in CERN’s budget.
Of course I didn’t foresee the heat waves and drought that have swept Europe, or the maintenance problems at France’s nuclear plants, which have made the energy crisis that much worse. (Even though global climate change is now quite obvious, and the trends are partially predictable, one can’t predict what will happen in any given year.) I am not familiar with the budgetary consequences of these higher energy prices for CERN operations, but they cannot be good.
Is it possible that the particle physicists hard at work near Geneva, Switzerland, at the laboratory known as CERN that hosts the Large Hadron Collider, have opened a doorway or a tunnel, to, say, another dimension? Could they be accessing a far-off planet orbiting two stars in a distant galaxy populated by Jedi knights? Perhaps they have opened the doors of Europe to a fiery domain full of demons, or worse still, to central Texas in summer?
Mortals and Portals
Well, now. If we’re talking about a kind of tunnel that human beings and the like could move through, then there’s a big obstacle in the way. That obstacle is the rigidity of space itself.
The notion of a “wormhole”, a sort of tunnel in space and time that might allow you to travel from one part of the universe to another without taking the most obvious route to get there, or perhaps to places for which there is no other route at all, isn’t itself entirely crazy. It’s allowed by the math of Einstein’s theory of space and time and gravity. However, the concept comes with immensely daunting conceptual and practical challenges. At the heart of all of them, there’s a basic and fundamental problem: bending and manipulating space isn’t easy.
Earlier this week I explained how neutrinos can get their mass within the Standard Model of particle physics, either by engaging with the Higgs field once, the way the other particles do, or by engaging with it twice. In the first case, the neutrinos would be “Dirac fermions”, just like electrons and quarks. In the second, they’d be “Majorana fermions”. Decades ago, in the original Standard Model, neutrinos were thought not to have any mass at all, and were “Weyl fermions.” Although I explained in my last post what these three types of fermions are, today I want go a little deeper, and provide you with a diagrammatic way of understanding the differences among them, as well as a more complete view of the workings of the “see-saw mechanism”, which may well be the cause of the neutrinos’ exceptionally small masses.
[N.B. On this website, mass means “rest mass” except when otherwise indicated.]
The Three Types of Fermions
What’s a fermion? All particles in our world are either fermions or bosons. Bosons are highly social and are happy to all do the same thing, as when huge numbers of photons are all locked in synch to make a laser. Fermions are loners; they refuse to do the same thing, and the “Pauli exclusion principle” that plays a huge role in atomic physics, creating the famous shell structure of atoms, arises from the fact that electrons are fermions. The Standard Model fermions and their masses are shown below.
I’ve been spending the week at an inspiring and thought-provoking scientific workshop. (Well, “at” means “via Zoom”, which has been fun since I’m in the US and the workshop is in Zurich; I’ve been up every morning this week before the birds.) The workshop brings together a terrific array of particle theorists and Large Hadron Collider [LHC] experimenters from the ATLAS and CMS experiments, and is aimed at “Semi-Visible Jets”, a phenomenon that could reveal so-far-undiscovered types of particles in a context where they could easily be hiding. [Earlier this weekI described why its so easy for new particles to hide from us; the Higgs boson itself hid for almost 25 years.]
After a great set of kick-off talks, including a brand new result on the subject from ATLAS (here’s an earlier one from CMS) we moved into the presentation and discussion stage, and I’ve been learning a lot. The challenges of the subject are truly daunting, not only because the range of possible semi-visible jets is huge, but also because the scientific expertise that has to be gathered in order to design searches for semi-visible jets is exceptionally wide, and often lies at or beyond the cutting edge of research.