LHC: At the Edge of Physics

lhc1The Higgs Boson particle, confirmed by the Large Hadron Collider in 2012, was the last piece of the jigsaw of the Standard Model – a framework for almost everything we know about physics today. The LHC was upgraded last year and will very soon resume operation after its annual maintenance shutdown. The reason everyone is so excited by this next phase is that there is a distinct possibility that a new particle will be discovered that will break the Standard Model. As this article from Aeon explains, there were faint traces at the end of last year, before the shut down, of a particle that could be six times as massive as the Higgs boson and 800 times the mass of a proton. The beauty of physics (and any science) is that there is a constant quest to find new and better theories, and when old theories are disproved this is something to be celebrated. The successor to the Standard Model, if it is found (or even exists) will hopefully be able to address some of the big unknowns (as well as incorporating all of the knowns that the current model describes), including the nature of dark matter, the imbalance between matter and antimatter and some fairly fundamental questions about mass. Should be an exciting few months for physicists everywhere.

UPDATE 9/8/16: Well, the excitement didn’t last very long unfortunately. After carrying out many more experiments, the bumps have disappeared, leaving us back where we started. But the brilliant thing about Science-with-a-capital-S is that facts win (despite the huge emotional disappointment) and that this is not the end – it just means that the LHC needs to do more experiments in slightly different ways. As Professor Jon Butterworth from UCL says, this was just the first flyby from their new hilltop; there is still plenty of opportunity to find something amazing, it’s just that it is probably buried deep in the undergrowth somewhere.

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