If you haven’t already, check out Peter’s posting on the first findings of the LHC. He does a nice job of discussing the basic foundations we need to establish first before we can focus on the ‘sexy’ physics; supersymmetry, the higgs, extra dimensions, etc. But before we can even do the studies that Peter mentions, we have to first calibrate and understand the detector. This in itself is no easy task.
Now that Sept 10th has been set as the day of first beam, the most frequent question I get these days is, ‘So, when are you going to see the higgs?’
I wish that I knew. But it is really impossible to put a timeline on something like this. So the answer is ‘I don’t know’. And if you are annoyed by physicists refusing to estimate when results will be ready, then you are not alone. I was speaking with a journalist earlier this week, who was clearly exasperated with me on this point. This was the gist of our conversation.
Journalist: What is the next milestone for ATLAS after first collisions?
Me: Once there are collisions, our next steps will be in the understanding of and the final calibration of the detector.
Journalist: And how long until that is finished and there are first results? A few hours?
Me: ATLAS has roughly 100 million electronics channels and nine different detector technologies. Calibration of that full system is incredibly complex.
Journalist: Two days?
Me: When we are satisfied that any detector-induced effects in the data are understood, we will confirm that we can observe the particles that we already know exist. Particles like the W and Z bosons.
Journalist: One week?
Me: Then we can be in a position to search for physics beyond the standard model.
Journalist: Two weeks?
In the mist of the first beam excitement, I hate to sound like a killjoy about the timeline for new physics results. But I think the focus is wrong. The next milestones for ATLAS might not be Higgs discovery but they are very exciting. Right now, even the background to the Higgs search is unknown to us. And as Peter mentions this is extremely interesting in its own right. So, who knows maybe by the time we are ready to search for the Higgs, it won’t be the most exciting particle in physics anymore….