I recently returned from a couple of heavy travel weeks, which were exhausting, but well worth it from a physics standpoint. It all started when I left to spend six days in Philadelphia at the 34th International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP08), which was coincidentally hosted by the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University. ICHEP is one of the two largest particle physics conferences in the world (the other being the Lepton-Photon conference that alternates annually with ICHEP) and I was there to get a fire hose full of what’s going on in the field these days, and to deliver a featured talk on Approaches to Cosmic Acceleration.
The great thing about a conference like ICHEP is that there are hundreds and hundreds of people to hear speak and discuss physics with, in a fun city that you can enjoy with many of your friends from the field when the sessions are over. The down side is that there are hundreds and hundreds of people to hear speak and discuss physics with, and there is just no way that you can see everyone you’d like to. And there’s no way you can spend enough time with all your friends. Overall, I had a wonderful time though. I attended parallel sessions on particle cosmology, supersymmetry, beyond the standard model physics, formal theory, and so many more that I can’t list them all, plus plenary presentations on almost everything.
The talks, as at most conferences, were a mix of quality (both in content and in presentation), but there were definitely highlights. On the experimental side, I particularly enjoyed the results presented from the PAMELA experiment, during which many people thought they saw a plot providing support for the High Energy Antimatter Telescope (HEAT) anomaly (a suggested excess of positrons from the galactic center, which could be interpreted as a signature of annihilating dark matter), although this plot wasn’t to be found in the posted version of the slides. Definitely something to stay posted on though! And on the theory side, my friend and former collaborator Krishna Rajagopal gave a very clear and nice review of the techniques (including those coming straight from string theory and the AdS/CFT correspondence) that are being used to understand results coming from the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC).
But perhaps the most exciting talk I saw was the opening plenary talk by Lyn Evans. Evans, a softly spoken Welshman, is the project leader for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and has worked on this project for the last 14 years. As you might expect, he gave an overview of the current status of the machine (as John has described for us). But what touched me was just how clearly brimming with excitement he was. It was a perfect example of something I saw in many people during ICHEP – this feeling of intense anticipation as we wait for the first new collider in many of our careers to turn on. While this was a lovely meeting, I think we were all keenly aware that in a year things may change significantly, and almost certainly the next ICHEP, two years from now, will be a completely different experience.
In other fun news from this part of my travels, I managed to fit in a great dinner with JoAnne and other friends Tom Rizzo and Albert de Roeck. This is the first time I’ve seen JoAnne since her treatment and I can report that she is looking good and, if the ability to drink and enjoy mojitos, wine and port is a measure of recovery, then she is well on her way!
After ICHEP I returned to Syracuse for four days and then flew to California to lecture at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC – it is still called that, right?) Summer Science Institute (SSI). This year’s topic is high-energy cosmic rays and, although I don’t really work on this these days, I was invited to give a review of “exotic acceleration mechanisms”, which I took as an excuse to talk about topological defects, superheavy dark matter (and its production during preheating after inflation), and Lorentz violation.
I’m a big fan of the SLAC SSI. I lectured there for the first time a few years ago and find the students to be smart, motivated, and full of questions, and the schedule to allow a lot of informal interactions. Plus, I get to see more friends when I go there, including an enjoyable dinner with Michael Peskin the evening that I arrived, and some nice wine with JoAnne and Tom again!
I spent three days at SLAC and then flew to Philadelphia to spend two days taking part in a Department of Energy (DOE) review at my new institution. These things are exhausting, but it was a nice opportunity for me to get a complete overview of the high-energy research going on in the department.
I left two days later and finally got home on the Friday night. I’ve spent the last week recovering from all the driving and flying and talking, and catching up with research and students. Today I’m off to spend my first day of leave at the Astronomy department at Cornell!