This time last year I wrote a blog post about what 2011 delivered and what to expect for 2012. It was obvious that we’d get some answers on the Higgs question, so it’s no surprise that we saw some 5 sigma bumps in there. As Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN said it was a “vintage year” for physics, which I think means “very good”. Personally I think that the choice of word “vintage” is a bit anticlimactic. Surely a vintage anything is best enjoyed after several years have passed, if you have the money for it? It would have been nicer to see a word that reflected the current excitement of being a part of the discovery and seeing physics a living field, rather than comparing it to a bottle of dusty (though very tasty) wine at the back of a cellar somewhere. Oh well, maybe I’m reading too much into one word. Rolf’s article gives a very nice overview of 2012. In short, 2012 was brilliant and delivered as promised.
As usual, the end of the year also marks the end of the LHC run. In 2012 the LHC was ramping up for another year of proton collisions. This year it’s ramping up for weeks heavy ion physics, and then the long shutdown. Long shutdown. There’s so much meaning in those two words. No more data for two years. What will we do with that time? Will people flee from the field? (That would make it easier for the remaining physicists to find good positions!) Will we re-analyze the existing data? Will we work hard on the hardware? Will we revise our theories? First things first: early in 2013 we’ll need to deal with the rest of the Higgs questions for the Moriond conference. Some questions will have to wait to be answered, but most of them can be addressed with the data we have. What are the final states and branching fractions? Can we get a handle on the spin and parity? Do the production mode rates look right? We can get answers to most of these questions and that would be enough to confirm that what we have seen is the Standard Model Higgs boson. If one value comes out significantly “wrong” at both ATLAS and CMS then we’ve got new physics on our hands.
That’s what I’m hoping for. That’s what nearly everyone is hoping for. I hope 2013 is the year that the Standard Model gets broken. I want to see that model fall apart and leave a big new physics shaped hole for us to fill. If we get a Higgs boson and new phenomena then the 2015 data will be worth the wait. The nightmare scenario is seeing the Standard Model Higgs and nothing else. That would be like Columbus sailing West and getting to India. Impressive, somewhat reassuring, but ultimately disappointing. I don’t want a easy route to an old question, I want a whole new continent of discovery. It worked very well for us last time! I don’t know what a discovery of that kind would look like. It would have be in the dataset somewhere though, and once the pressure from the Higgs searches dies down we’ll have a lot more time and labor to look at the data with fresh eyes and comb it for new processes. Keeping the pace going for analysis during the shutdown will be hard, but worth the effort. There will be no media frenzy, the world will not be watching over our collective shoulders. Instead it will be a quieter process, a time to reflect on the implications of what we’re unwinding and what it is telling us.
2012, you’ve been great, but it’s time to move on. Bring it on 2013. Change the landscape for us all over again and tell us where to take the field in the next few years. Enjoy the hibernation, LHC, 2015 will be rough on you.
And of course Happy New Year to all!