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Aidan Randle-Conde | Université Libre de Bruxelles | Belgium

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A new year, a new outlook

2011 has been a year of change and excitement. We’ve had plenty of good news and bad news to deal with. The new year doesn’t mean just another calendar on the wall, it means a new way of looking at physics. There’s no better way to bring in the new year than watching the fireworks in central London, surrounded by friends. There’s usually a fantastic display, because London is not only one of the most important cities in the world, but it’s also home of universal time. With the Greenwich Meridian running through the capital, we’re reminded of the role that timekeeping has played in the development our history and our science. But this year was even more special, since London is literally inviting the world to its streets this year for the Olympics. So I got caught up in the excitement of it all my thoughts turned to what we’ve seen in the world of physics, and where we’re going next.

New year fireworks in London (New York Times)

New year fireworks in London (New York Times)

2011 got off to a start with ATLAS announcing a startling asymmetry in the jet momenta in heavy ion collisions. However, the joy was tainted by a leaked abstract from an internal document. That document never made it through internal review and should never have been made public. We were faced with several issues of confidentiality, ethics and biases, and how having several thousand people, all armed with the internet and with friends on competing experiments makes the work tough for all of us. In the end we followed the right course, subjected all the analyses to the rigors of internal and external review, and presented some wonderful papers.

There was more gossip over the CDF dijet anomaly presented at Blois. CDF saw a bump, and D0 didn’t. Before jumping to any conclusions it’s important to remember why we have two experiments at Tevatron in the first place! These kinds of double checks are exactly what we need and they represent the high standard of scientific research that we expect and demand. The big news for Tevatron was, of course, the end of running. We’re all sad that the shutdown had to happen and grateful for such a long, productive run, but lets look to the future in the intensity frontier.

Meanwhile both ATLAS and CMS closed in on the Higgs boson, excluding the vast majority of the allowed regions. The combinations and results just got better and better, until eventually on December 13th we saw the result of 5fb-1 from each experiment. The world watched as the presentations were made and quite a few people were left feeling a little deflated. But that’s not the message we should take away. If the Higgs boson is there (and it probably is) then we’ll see by the end of the year. There’s no more of saying “Probably within a year, if we’re lucky”, or “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves”. This time we can be confident that this time next year we’ll have uncovered every reasonable stone. The strategies will change and we narrow the search. We may have new energies to explore, and we’ll tweak our analyses to get more discriminating power from the data. Now is the time to get excited! The game has changed and the end is definitely in sight.

Raise a glass as we say farewell to a great year of physics, and welcome another

Raise a glass as we say farewell to a great year of physics, and welcome another

It’s been a good year for heavy flavor physics as well. LHCb has gone from strength to strength, probing deeper and deeper into the data. We’ve seen the first new particle at the LHC, a state of bottomonium. Precision measurements of heavy flavor physics give some of the most sensitive tests of new physics models, and it’s easy to forget the vital role they play in discover.

ALICE has been busy exploring different questions about our origins, and they’ve studied the quark gluon plasma in great detail. The findings have told us that the plasma acts like a fluid, while showing unexpected suppression of excited bottomonium states. With even more data from 2011 being crunched we can expect even more from ALICE in 2012.

The result that came completely out of left field was the faster than light neutrinos from OPERA. After seeing neutrinos break the cosmic speed limit, OPERA repeated the measurements with finer proton bursts and got the same result. Something interesting is definitely happening with that result. Either it’s a subtle mistake that has eluded all the OPERA physicists and their colleagues across the world, or our worldview is about to be overturned. I don’t think we’ll get the answers in the immediate future, so let’s keep an eye out for results from MINOS and OPERA.

Finally it’s been an incredible year for public involvement. It’s been a pleasure to have such a responsive audience and to see how many people all across the world have been watching CERN and the LHC. A couple of years ago I would not have thought that the LHC and Higgs boson would get so much attention, and it’s been a of huge benefit to everyone. The discoveries we share with the world are not only captivating us all, they’re also inspiring the next generation of physicists. We need a constant supply of fresh ideas and new students to keep the cutting edge research going. If we can reach out to teenagers in schools and inspire some of them to choose careers in science then we’ll continue to answer the most fascinating, far reaching and beautiful questions about our origins.

So when you a raise a glass to the new year, don’t forget that we’ve had an incredible 2011 for physics, and that 2012 is going to deliver even more. We don’t even know what’s out there, but it’s going to be amazing. To physics!

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One Response to “A new year, a new outlook”

  1. cormac says:

    Great summary, many thanks

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