Science Seen Physicist and Time One author Colin Gillespie helps you understand your world.
The silence about new fundamental particles sends us a loud and clear message
The Large Hadron Collider or LHC was to find new particles. Aside from possibly the expected Higgs boson the report from the physics front is a deafening silence. This silence says a lot.
At some $10 billion, the LHC is the world’s biggest and most costly science experiment ever. It pushes atom-smashing to new energy records. Like other pioneering colliders it has an open-ended aspect: To quote Star Trek, it goes where no man has gone before. But it also has specific targets. The biggest is to test whether the Standard Model of physics is on the right track.
The Standard Model is physics’ crowning achievement of the last fifty years. It sets out to describe how the world works at scales down to 10-19 m. But even as it reaches for this objective it is collapsing under the weight of serious problems and a hopelessly large number of arbitrary parameters.
There is a way to prop the Standard Model up. It involves a whole new set of particles—called supersymmetric—one new partner for each subatomic particle that physics already knows such as electrons and quarks. These imagined new particles have been at the center of a frenzy of activity—both theoretical and experimental—the latter mainly at the LHC. The world’s largest computing grid has analysed many quadrillions of the LHC’s high-energy collisions. The result is exactly zero new particles.
For the Standard Model to survive, the LHC should have found at least some of the needed new particles long ago. Back in 2014 I quoted two American physicists as saying, ‘The negative results are beginning to produce if not a full-blown crisis in particle physics, then at least a widespread panic.’ Imagine the atmosphere today. Even originators of supersymmetry are saying it is time to give up and move on.
This is the kind of thing that drives new fundamental physics—a much needed kind of thing today in my view. It could lead to new focus on loop quantum gravity. Like other promising new avenues of fundamental physics it has long been starved of funds by the massive diversion of research support to the LHC and its siren song of supersymmetry. The leading light of loop quantum gravity is the preon model—discovered at the Perimeter Institute— that makes subatomic particles of matter and energy by braiding twists in space at Planck scale, a quadrillion-fold finer than that of the Standard Model.
Planck-scale is the go-to place for big breakthroughs in fundamental physics.
Coming: Planck-scale physics shines a beacon of hope for a big boost to the economy and a return to civility in human discourse.
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