Greetings from Florida! The summer conference season has just started, and on both sides of the Atlantic, in Florida and France, physicists are meeting to share the latest news from the LHC and the Tevatron. I’m at the Eleventh Conference on the Intersections of Particle and Nuclear Physics (CIPANP 2012), and with 70 parallel sessions, 10 plenary sessions, and 64 posters there’s a lot to explore here! While the Higgs boson is a hot topic, it’s not the main focus of the conference, topics include neutrino physics, cosmology, nuclear physics, dark matter and hadronic structure. Physicists are chatting over coffee, catching up on gossip and rumors, and trying to find the time to fit in the most interesting talks.
I delivered my talk yesterday (a whirlwind tour of Higgs bosons decaying to final states with tau leptons) so I can now relax and enjoy the rest of the conference. Given the diverse nature of CIPANP this is a great opportunity to find out about the other areas of physics. In the very low mass region there are extremely stringent tests of the Standard Model which keep getting better. It’s easy to forget that the most precise tests are not found at the high energy frontier, so hearing from colleagues who work with muons and neutrinos is vital.
So far I’ve mostly limited myself to the Higgs sessions and the plenary talks. We’ve seen ATLAS, CMS, CDF, and D0 squeeze as much as they can out of their datasets, looking in much more detail at the decay channels, splitting analyses into ever finer categories in order to improve the techniques. Even so, we’re going to have to wait for ICHEP in July to see some substantially improved exclusion limits.
Perhaps the best part of traveling to conferences is the change of scenery and break from the usual habits. I don’t want to give the impression that it’s like a vacation- nearly everyone is still working very hard while they’re here. Instead the travel breathes new life into our approach to physics, giving us a chance to think a bit differently about what we do.
As I sit in talks I find my mind wandering to the public understanding of physics, because I struggle to understand a lot of the presentations from theorists. We tend to skip over a lot of information when we present our work, so it would be useful to be able to take things more slowly when explaining the more important areas. Unfortunately we need to get permission to present plots using data, so for now we are stuck with the plots that have been approved. They are often busy, pragmatic, and try to condense as much information as possible in as little space as possible. Putting in a few more steps could make the ideas much more accessible to the wider public, so if I get time in the next few months I want to explore making it easier to get more suitable plots approved for the public.
I’ll focus more on the physics results in a different blog post. For now I just want to say that it’s great to be back in the USA again and (tedious border control aside) it’s been a very pleasant experience to be on this side of the Atlantic for a week. At these conferences there are always social events and receptions, so imagine how happy I was to see that there was a dolphin watching cruise on the schedule!