Wednesday, July 04, 2012

What's New, Higgsy?

... everybody's talking ...

... I was lost, and now I'm found...

Or at least it walks like a duck.

Well, it's nice to have found something, even if it did cost 10 GBucks.

Bee notes that the last previous elementary particle discovery occurred when she was in high school. She also has a nice meditation on the present state of things.

And so, strangely, on this sunny day for high energy particle physics, I feel somewhat blue about the prospects. It's been almost two decades since the last discovery of a particle that we presently believe is elementary, the top quark in 1995, which was the year I finished high school. It's been a long way and an enormous effort to that little bump in the above plot. There isn't so much more we can do with hadron colliders. If we try really hard, we can ramp up the energy a little and improve the luminosity a little. Of course what we want next is a lepton collider like the ILC that will complete the picture that the LHC delivers.

But we have a diminishing return on investment. Not so surprisingly - it's the consequence of our increasingly better understanding that it takes more effort to find something new. And to make that effort of blue sky fundamental research, we need societies who can afford it. There's an economic question here, about the way mankind will develop, it's the question whether or not we'll be able to take care of our survival needs, and still continue to have enough resources to push the boundary of nature's secrets back further.

I know the feeling. Higgs was already the target when I was in grad school, and it now seems a bit unlikely that any new elementary particle will be found in my lifetime. We've found the last marble in this particular scavenger hunt, and so far it looks just like another marble.

Note to those who find the above too cryptic. This post is about finding the Higgs particle, or at least a particle that's a strong candidate to be the Higgs, at CERN. Some technical detail can be found at the links and popular stories are everywhere, including the NYT.