Particle physicists bemoan a perfect theory

How can anyone hate perfection?

I’m very glad that I am not a particle physicist. In the excitement of the LHC starting up, breaking, starting up again, performing beautifully, and finding the Higgs Boson, we seem to forget that particle physics is in a really odd situation. In any other field of science, getting experimental results to agree with theory is considered a champagne moment. The most common boast I hear at conferences goes something along the lines of “And the line represents the theory, which is not a fit, it has no free parameters, and you can see that it agrees very well with the experimental data.”

Yet in particle physics, smiles turn upside down and presenters shuffle about uncomfortably as they say “as you can see the standard model accounts for all our data over umpteen gazillion orders of magnitude.” That is a magnificent achievement and should be celebrated. Instead, it is being treated like ashes in the mouth. And that was the undercurrent of a session on particle physics that I attended at Physics@FOM.

The session had two experimental talks and two theory talks—luckily all of them were at a rather high level. Surprisingly, the attitude of the experimentalists and theorists were rather different. On the experimental side, there is a palpable desire to find some data that does not fit the standard model. Unfortunately, they haven’t done so yet. The Higgs is a very standard Higgs, and at all energies up to and beyond that of the Higgs, particle production has replicated the standard model very well. The one hint, and it is only a hint, is that there is some missing energy in some collisions at very high energies. This is most likely a statistical fluctuation, but if not, it could be a signature of dark matter or extra dimensions. However, until the data deviates at a level of five sigma, no one is going to say anything.

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via Ars Technica


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