Panning for Gold

By JoAnne Hewett | July 19, 2006 5:51 pm

The 2006 SLAC Summer Institute est arrivé!

This is the 34th SLAC Summer Institute and the topic this year is the physics of the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC begins operations next year and we are riding the wave of excitement and expectation as the field gears up to explore the next high energy frontier. Everyone is full of anticipation for the discoveries that are waiting for us at the Terascale, which hold the promise of addressing some of our most basic questions about the nature of matter, space, time, and energy. Anticipated particles such as Higgs bosons are produced in roughly one out of every 10^12 collision events, and hence the analogy of panning for gold.

This topic is also very timely for SLAC; last Friday we were officially admitted into the ATLAS Collaboration! ATLAS is one of the two (high pT) experiments designed to probe the TeV energy scale. SLAC will be one of the tier-2 computing centers in the ATLAS grid and will be a major physics analysis center on the West Coast.

We are in our 3rd day of the Institute and, speaking from an organizors point of view, all is running smoothly (except for the usual MAC-PC issues). We have an exciting program of lectures and topical talks. We opened with an overview of the physics anticipated at the Terascale, expertly given by Guido Altarelli of CERN. We had two lectures on the most important aspect of the LHC: the accelerator! The LHC accelerator is very complex and let’s face it, without a working accelerator, we can’t do our science. This series was given by Lyn Evans of CERN, who is basically the guy in charge of the LHC accelerator complex. James Stirling of Durham, the guy who literally wrote the book on his lecture topic, beautifully explained the theory behind proton proton collisions. Lance Dixon of SLAC will continue on this topic, outlining the details of higher precision calculations. We have a series of detector talks, introduced by Jos Engelen (deputy director of CERN), where we focus on a specific detector component each day. Michael Peskin of SLAC will discuss the connections between colliders and cosmology. And that’s just the first week! Next week, we will separately explore specific physics topics in depth (Higgs, Supersymmetry, top-quark, extra dimensions, etc), taking a look at both theory and how the signatures will actually be observed in the demanding experimental environment at the LHC.

We have a variety of other activities as well. There are 5 afternoons of topical talks, one each on results from the Tevatron, B-physics, astrophysics, neutrinos, and heavy ions. Alternating afternoons we hold discussion sessions where the students get to grill the lecturers. This evening is the first of 2 poster sessions where the students will present their work. Next week is the annual SLAC versus Summer Institute soccer game. And we have 3 dinners which give the students the chance to mingle with each other and the lecturers and drink good wine. Last night was Hawaiian night, unfortunately SLAC’s resident hula dancer had broken her ankle and could not perform.

Over 200 participants have registered and seem to be enjoying the school so far. We are one of five LHC-themed summer schools this year (Fermilab, TRIUMF, Warsaw, and Trieste being the other 4) and we thank our participants for coming to the SLAC Summer Institute!

  • Elliot

    Layperson’s questions

    What are the implications for the various approaches to fundamental theories such as strings, branes, LQG, twistors etc. if the Higgs is or is not detected at the LHC?

    Also what if evidence/no evidence of supersymmetry shows up what ar the implications for these various theories (if any)



  • JoAnne


    As you might guess, it’s complicated. Essentially, any discovery or non-discovery at the LHC has zero implications for strings or LQG. This is particularly true for the Higgs. The only true exception is if TeV scale strings are discovered – that has obvious implications for string theory. Some will claim victory for string theory if supersymmetry is discovered. However, TeV scale supersymmetry can exist quite happily on its own merits without strings, so the discovery of supersymmetry at the LHC does not imply that string theory is correct. Proof of the existence of supersymmetry is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for proof of the existence of strings. Also, keep in mind that string theory does not require that supersymmetry be present at the TeV scale.

  • Elliot


    Thank you for your response. So bottom line is that seeing the Higgs at the terascale really doesn’t rule in or out any of these fundamental theories and if susy is seen at this energy levels its would confirm one of the necessary conditions for string theory BUT susy could be true without strings AND the fact that it is not seen at the energy levels at the LHC does not mean it would not be seen at some higher energy levels at sometime in the future. You mentioned TEV scale strings. Are there specific experiments being designed to look for them or is this one of those things that might show up unexpectedly as a byproduct of other activities.

    This information is extremely helpful.



  • Spatulated

    So out of curiosity, how does a student go about getting involved with the seemingly ultra cool physics summer schools?

    Anyways… Fascinating stuff, I wish I understood more of what’s going on

  • JoAnne

    Elliot, you got it. Exactly. Regarding TeV scale strings, specific signatures have been calculated and are included in the standard set of searches performed at colliders. Who knows, the LHC may surprise us!

    Spatulated, a student should talk to their advisor about sending them to a summer school. A good advisor will send their students without prompting.

  • Uncle Enzo

    “AND the fact that it is not seen at the energy levels at the LHC does not mean it would not be seen at some higher energy levels at sometime in the future.”

    Right, and if future accelerators don’t see susy, that just means susy exists at higher energies not yet probed. And if those accelerators don’t see susy, that just means it exists at even higher energies not yet probed, and so on.

  • spyder

    JoAnne, you have not mentioned the wine list as yet. What new finds did you discover to serve to your personal guests this year, those staying with you to attend the conference???

  • Uncle Enzo

    Forget the LHC. Part of the money should go to Italia and her soccer team so that Italia can win all the future world cups. Forza Italia!

  • Plato

    Gold Nuggets. You got to know how ot look for them. Some people, sit by streams, and this induces good thought production. :)

    One man’s opinion about the landscape?

    I think people are really having a hard time of pinpointing where strings fit into this “Arrow of Time?” “Outside the box” is “inside” the box? It’s really confusing sometimes.

    If you say “Microseconds, Microstate,” it’s still implies after the big bang. You see?

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  • Don Lapre Lover

    Interesting Summer Program. I haven’t been to one of those type of events in a long time. I’m sure it’s not the same though. I changed my major in college from Physics to Philosophy. Regret it sometimes but I love what I do. I still dabble in complex theories though. The String theory is a fascinating one that I love to talk about but perhaps another time. Take care and good luck. Will visit this site in future to see updates and discussions I may be apart of.

    Don Lapre Lover


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