I’m live blogging to you from the SUSY06 conference, hosted this year at UC Irvine. It’s held in a rather nice hotel in Newport Beach. It’s actually a resort of some sort, it seems, although I shall not have time to look around and enjoy it.
It is great to go to these conferences to hear about the growing buzz of excitement about what might happen in the upcoming major experiment in the field, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC, see here and here), about which you’ve read a lot from previous posts (do a search on “LHC”). There’s a feeling that there’s a chance for there to be wonderful physics “just around the corner”, and that’s a good place to be in terms of morale. The SUSY conferences have a very nice mix of theory, experiment and phenomenology -and crucially the practitioners thereof- and this makes them worthwhile attending. I was lucky last year to be on my annual visit to Durham when SUSY05 was going on, and I’m lucky again this year for SUSY06 since Irvine is just “down the road” from Los Angeles.
(For the record… I tried to take the train, rather than driving, but could find no information at all from the conference site about how to get from the Irvine train station ten miles away to the actual site. After a long time on various websites I found that it would take me an hour and a half to cover than ten miles by bus….the same time it would take me driving from home during the rush hour. Now, I’m willing to bet that it is possible to do it…..but the fact that the hotel makes no effort at all to supply you with any information about this is frustrating. It just does not occur to anyone that somebody might want to try to use public transport. So I ended up driving. Sigh.)
Recall that the LHC collides protons together after accelerating them around a ring that is 27km around.
We hope to see all sorts of exciting physics in the products of those collisions, which will hopefully answer questions about the origin of mass and the details of Electroweak Symmetry breaking. What is that latter thing? Basically, we’ll learn -we hope- about the manner in which the force of electromagnetism on the one hand and the weak nuclear force, on the other, broke apart from each other and became the distinct forces we see today at low energy. At high energy -the energies those collisions probe- the forces change their character and merge into one force, the Electroweak force. The “symmetry” which unites those two forces gets broken (i.e., they’re no longer united) in a way that the LHC will study, by (roughly) reconstructing the high energy conditions they were under when they were united. In the breaking of this symmetry, the particles which interact using these forces (the stuff that makes us up) all get masses by interacting with some kind of particle we have not yet discovered. In its simplest form, it is called the “Higgs” particle, and it is this particle (or particles, if there is a family of them) that we hope to study with the LHC. This is the LHC’s most important task.
So what’s been going on so far? Well, lots of excited chatter about the LHC. It is a truly amazing machine, as an engineering feat as much as a scientific tool. We heard a lot about this from Lyn Evans’s talk, which opened the conference. (Well, I missed that talk with the help of Yahoo’s confusing driving directions). The LHC is due to switch on in the late Summer of next year, running below design specs for a trial run. After a short period they will turn it off. Think of this as checking that all the bits are working properly before you go all out. Same way you would if you’d just installed a new sprinkler system in your garden. Then in 2008 they’ll switch on for real and work their way gradually up to where they want to be in terms of energy (in each collision of the particles) and luminosity (a measure of roughly how many collisions per second, and how close to “head on” those collision are).
Now people are hoping for a lot more from the LHC. There is the hope that there might well be signs of more physics than just the standard scenarios involving the Higgs mechanism. There are several good reasons to hope that the LHC might see hints of something more. Hints that there is a family of Higgs particles of the right sort, with the right couplings, might indicate that we are beginning to see Supersymmetry, a candidate symmetry of Nature that combines what we think of as “matter” particles (electrons, quarks, etc), and “force” particles (photons, gluons, etc) into a larger structure where they are on the same footing. This would be tremendously exciting for several purely particle physics reasons (SUSY -short for Supersymmetry- makes certain discrepancies between energy scales in the problem less mysterious – see here), and would be very encouraging for those who work in string theory as well, since Supersymmetry seems to be extremely natural in that context.
If Supersymmetry shows up, (we’d need a new experiment –such as the ILC– designed to study the problem once the LHC has shown the way, to be sure about it), we may well have the beginnings of the answers to the Dark Matter problem too, since the unknown form of matter needed in that context may well be a particle required by supersymmetry.
And then there are possible surprises….. large extra dimensions, black holes, new hidden gauge groups…. things we have not even thought of. So this is why it’s a great time to be visiting this kind of conference. We’re getting ourselves ready for what may come. The talks by Stephen Mrenna, Dieter Zeppenfeld, and Mihoko Nojiri this morning gave us a good flavour of what people are expecting, and preparing for, in the run up to the LHC. There will be several more talks of this type. You can see the full schedule of this very well organised conference here. In addition to the morning sessions where we all sit together, there are lots of parallel sessions on more specialized topics in collider physics, cosmology, string theory, alternative scenarios, and other aspects of phenomenology. Combining that with the chance to meet and talk to lots of other physicists and hear what they’re working on, there’s a lot of good stuff going on.
[Update: A commenter, chimpanzee, decided to supply visuals of scenes from the conference in lots of pictures and video clips (and even an iTunes podcast channel.) The links are here:
Please note that those blogs, and the material contained within, are nothing whatsoever to do with Cosmic Variance. I link them only as a courtesy.]