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Vivian O'Dell | USLHC | USA

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On the Utility of Super-Electrons

I don’t exactly have the least procrastination-free relationship with Life Beyond Physics. Ok, ok, so I’m the kind of person who wouldn’t mop the floor until I can see footprints on it. Bureaucratic documents? What is they? So long as the first lines don’t promise me incarceration and/or destitution, uhm, well…

However I must say that when EDF threatened to stop power from flowing into my home a couple of weeks ago, my response was immediate. What would I do if my computer won’t turn on? What will I eat? And — the first thought that entered my head — I really, really don’t want to chop firewood in order to bathe.

Having eventually persuaded EDF that they should take my money (really, I do insist), and resumed the life of a halfway normal physicist, I did spare a shudder for how duly proud we scientists are of the electron and how we squeezed this stuff called electricity out of it. It is such a well-behaved little particle — doesn’t break up no matter how hard it’s hit, easy to find, easy to manipulate, has a mathematically beautiful and complete theory, and wow, we actually get plenty of day-to-day use out of it! But in the meanwhile, we’ve gone on to decompose the universe into at least 16 types of particle fields, and one major ambition of the current generation is to find evidence of a “super-symmetric” mirror copy of the above Standard Model.

The LHC may very well find the super-electron. But this one will likely disintegrate before we so much as look at it, has eluded nearly half a decade of scrutiny, and the hypothetical model to which it belongs has so many unknowns that it’s pretty much a betting game as to where we should look. And if you were to ask me how far in the future I’d imagine humans might start using super-electrons in our not-so-daily lives, I can only think to quibble something about space-age and the indirect benefits of pure research.

A question for my phenomenologist counterparts — do we really need such a complicated (and growing) particle zoo to run life as we know it? Is it possible to have a universe with atoms and celestial bodies and maybe a few squishy organic beings, with only three fundamental particles just like we thought we had it all worked out, once upon a time?

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