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What is “Model Building”?

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted on Quantum Diaries. This post is cross-posted from ParticleBites.

One thing that makes physics, and especially particle physics, is unique in the sciences is the split between theory and experiment. The role of experimentalists is clear: they build and conduct experiments, take data and analyze it using mathematical, statistical, and numerical techniques to separate signal from background. In short, they seem to do all of the real science!

So what is it that theorists do, besides sipping espresso and scribbling on chalk boards? In this post we describe one type of theoretical work called model building. This usually falls under the umbrella of phenomenology, which in physics refers to making connections between mathematically defined theories (or models) of nature and actual experimental observations of nature.

One common scenario is that one experiment observes something unusual: an anomaly. Two things immediately happen:

  1. Other experiments find ways to cross-check to see if they can confirm the anomaly.
  2. Theorists start figure out the broader implications if the anomaly is real.

#1 is the key step in the scientific method, but in this post we’ll illuminate what #2 actually entails. The scenario looks a little like this:

An unusual experimental result (anomaly) is observed. One thing we would like to know is whether it is consistent with other experimental observations, but these other observations may not be simply related to the anomaly.

An unusual experimental result (anomaly) is observed. One thing we would like to know is whether it is consistent with other experimental observations, but these other observations may not be simply related to the anomaly.

Theorists, who have spent plenty of time mulling over the open questions in physics, are ready to apply their favorite models of new physics to see if they fit. These are the models that they know lead to elegant mathematical results, like grand unification or a solution to the Hierarchy problem. Sometimes theorists are more utilitarian, and start with “do it all” Swiss army knife theories called effective theories (or simplified models) and see if they can explain the anomaly in the context of existing constraints.

Here’s what usually happens:

Usually the nicest models of new physics don't fit! In the explicit example, the minimal supersymmetric Standard Model doesn't include a good candidate to explain the 750 GeV diphoton bump.

Usually the nicest models of new physics don’t fit! In the explicit example, the minimal supersymmetric Standard Model doesn’t include a good candidate to explain the 750 GeV diphoton bump.

Indeed, usually one needs to get creative and modify the nice-and-elegant theory to make sure it can explain the anomaly while avoiding other experimental constraints. This makes the theory a little less elegant, but sometimes nature isn’t elegant.

Candidate theory extended with a module (in this case, an additional particle). This additional model is "bolted on" to the theory to make it fit the experimental observations.

Candidate theory extended with a module (in this case, an additional particle). This additional model is “bolted on” to the theory to make it fit the experimental observations.

Now we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves. It can take quite a bit of work to hack the well-motivated original theory in a way that both explains the anomaly and avoids all other known experimental observations. A good theory can do a couple of other things:

  1. It points the way to future experiments that can test it.
  2. It can use the additional structure to explain other anomalies.

The picture for #2 is as follows:

A good hack to a theory can explain multiple anomalies. Sometimes that makes the hack a little more cumbersome. Physicists often develop their own sense of 'taste' for when a module is elegant enough.

A good hack to a theory can explain multiple anomalies. Sometimes that makes the hack a little more cumbersome. Physicists often develop their own sense of ‘taste’ for when a module is elegant enough.

Even at this stage, there can be a lot of really neat physics to be learned. Model-builders can develop a reputation for particularly clever, minimal, or inspired modules. If a module is really successful, then people will start to think about it as part of a pre-packaged deal:

A really successful hack may eventually be thought of as it's own variant of the original theory.

A really successful hack may eventually be thought of as it’s own variant of the original theory.

Model-smithing is a craft that blends together a lot of the fun of understanding how physics works—which bits of common wisdom can be bent or broken to accommodate an unexpected experimental result? Is it possible to find a simpler theory that can explain more observations? Are the observations pointing to an even deeper guiding principle?

Of course—we should also say that sometimes, while theorists are having fun developing their favorite models, other experimentalists have gone on to refute the original anomaly.


Sometimes anomalies go away and the models built to explain them don’t hold together.


But here’s the mark of a really, really good model: even if the anomaly goes away and the particular model falls out of favor, a good model will have taught other physicists something really neat about what can be done within the a given theoretical framework. Physicists get a feel for the kinds of modules that are out in the market (like an app store) and they develop a library of tricks to attack future anomalies. And if one is really fortunate, these insights can point the way to even bigger connections between physical principles.

I cannot help but end this post without one of my favorite physics jokes, courtesy of T. Tait:

 A theorist and an experimentalist are having coffee. The theorist is really excited, she tells the experimentalist, “I’ve got it—it’s a model that’s elegant, explains everything, and it’s completely predictive.”The experimentalist listens to her colleague’s idea and realizes how to test those predictions. She writes several grant applications, hires a team of postdocs and graduate students, trains them,  and builds the new experiment. After years of design, labor, and testing, the machine is ready to take data. They run for several months, and the experimentalist pores over the results.

The experimentalist knocks on the theorist’s door the next day and says, “I’m sorry—the experiment doesn’t find what you were predicting. The theory is dead.”

The theorist frowns a bit: “What a shame. Did you know I spent three whole weeks of my life writing that paper?”


Les grandes percées sont rares en physique. La recherche est plutôt jalonnée d’innombrables petites avancées et c’est ce qui ressortira de la Conférence Internationale de la Physique des Hautes Énergies (ICHEP) qui s’est ouverte hier à Chicago. On y espérait un pas de géant mais aujourd’hui les expériences CMS et ATLAS ont toutes deux rapporté que l’effet prometteur observé à 750 GeV dans les données de 2015 avait disparu. Il est vrai que ce genre de choses n’est pas rare en physique des particules étant donné la nature statistique de tous les phénomènes que nous observons.


Sur chaque figure, l’axe vertical indique le nombre d’évènements trouvés contenant une paire de photons dont la masse combinée apparaît sur l’axe horizontal en unités de GeV. (À gauche) Les points en noir représentent les données expérimentales recueillies et analysées jusqu’à présent par la Collaboration CMS, soit 12.9 fb-1, à comparer aux 2.7 fb-1 disponibles en 2015. Le trait vertical associé à chaque point représente la marge d’erreur expérimentale. En tenant compte de ces erreurs, les données sont compatibles avec ce à quoi on s’attend pour le bruit de fond, tel qu’indiqué par la courbe en vert. (À droite) Une nouvelle particule se serait manifestée sous forme d’un pic tel que celui en rouge si elle avait eu les mêmes propriétés que celles pressenties dans les données de 2015 à 750 GeV. Visiblement, les données expérimentales (points noirs) reproduisent simplement le bruit de fond. Il faut donc conclure que ce qui avait été aperçu dans les données de 2015 n’était que le fruit d’une variation statistique.

Mais dans ce cas, c’était particulièrement convainquant car le même effet avait été observé indépendamment par deux équipes qui travaillent sans se consulter et utilisent des méthodes d’analyse et des détecteurs différents. Cela avait déclenché beaucoup d’activités et d’optimisme : à ce jour, 540 articles scientifiques ont été écrits sur cette particule hypothétique qui n’a jamais existé, tant l’implication de son existence serait profonde.

Mais les théoriciens et théoriciennes ne furent pas les seuls à nourrir autant d’espoir. Beaucoup d’expérimentalistes y ont cru et ont parié sur son existence, un de mes collègues allant jusqu’à mettre en jeu une caisse d’excellent vin.

Si beaucoup de physiciens et physiciennes avaient bon espoir ou étaient même convaincus de la présence d’une nouvelle particule, les deux expériences ont néanmoins affiché la plus grande prudence. En l’absence de preuves irréfutables de sa présence, aucune des deux collaborations, ATLAS et CMS, n’a revendiqué quoi que ce soit. Ceci est caractéristique des scientifiques : on parle de découvertes seulement lorsqu’il ne subsiste plus aucun doute.

Mais beaucoup de physiciens et physiciennes, moi y compris, ont délaissé un peu leurs réserves, non seulement parce que les chances que cet effet disparaisse étaient très minces, mais aussi parce que cela aurait été une découverte beaucoup plus grande que celle du boson de Higgs, générant du coup beaucoup d’enthousiasme. Tout le monde soupçonne qu’il doit exister d’autres particules au-delà de celles déjà connues et décrites par le Modèle standard de la physique des particules. Mais malgré des années passées à leur recherche, nous n’avons toujours rien à nous mettre sous la dent.

Depuis que le Grand collisionneur de hadrons (LHC) du CERN opère à plus haute énergie, ayant passé de 8 TeV à 13 TeV en 2015, les chances d’une découverte majeure sont plus fortes que jamais. Disposer de plus d’énergie donne accès à des territoires jamais explorés auparavant.

Jusqu’ici, les données de 2015 n’ont pas révélé la présence de particules ou phénomènes nouveaux mais la quantité de données recueillies était vraiment limitée. Au contraire, cette année le LHC se surpasse, ayant déjà produit cinq fois plus de données que l’année dernière. On espère y découvrir éventuellement les premiers signes d’un effet révolutionnaire. Des dizaines de nouvelles analyses basées sur ces données récentes seront présentées à la conférence ICHEP jusqu’au 10 août et j’en reparlerai sous peu.

Il a fallu 48 ans pour découvrir le boson de Higgs après qu’il fut postulé théoriquement alors qu’on savait ce que l’on voulait trouver. Mais aujourd’hui, nous ne savons même pas ce que nous cherchons. Cela pourrait donc prendre encore un peu de temps. Il y a autre chose, tout le monde le sait. Mais quand le trouverons nous, ça, c’est une autre histoire.

Pauline Gagnon

Pour en savoir plus sur la physique des particules et les enjeux du LHC, consultez mon livre : « Qu’est-ce que le boson de Higgs mange en hiver et autres détails essentiels».

Pour recevoir un avis lors de la parution de nouveaux blogs, suivez-moi sur Twitter: @GagnonPauline ou par e-mail en ajoutant votre nom à cette liste de distribution.


Giant leaps are rare in physics. Scientific research is rather a long process made of countless small steps and this is what will be presented throughout the week at the International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP) in Chicago. While many hoped for a major breakthrough, today, both the CMS and ATLAS experiments reported that the promising effect observed at 750 GeV in last year’s data has vanished. True, this is not uncommon in particle physics given the statistical nature of all phenomena we observe.


On both plots, the vertical axis gives the number of events found containing a pair of photons with a combined mass given in units of GeV (horizontal axis) (Left plot) The black dots represent all data collected in 2016 and analysed so far by the CMS Collaboration, namely 12.9 fb-1, compared to the 2.7 fb-1 available in 2015. The vertical line associated with each data point represents the experimental error margin. Taking these errors into account, the data are compatible with what is expected from various backgrounds, as indicated by the green curve. (Right) A new particle would have manifested itself as a peak as big as the red one shown here if it had the same features as what had been seen in the 2015 data around 750 GeV. Clearly, the black data points pretty much reproduce the background. Hence, we must conclude that what was seen in the 2015 data was simply due to a statistical fluctuation.

What was particularly compelling in this case was that the very same effect had been observed by two independent teams, who worked without consulting each other and used different detectors and analysis methods. This triggered frantic activity and much expectation: to date, 540 scientific theory papers have been written on a hypothetical particle that never was, so profound the implications of the existence of such a new particle would be.

But theorists were not the only ones to be so hopeful. Many experimentalists had taken strong bets, one of my colleagues going as far as putting a case of very expensive wine on it.

If many physicists were hopeful or even convinced of the presence of a new particle, both experiments nevertheless had been very cautious. Without unambiguous signs of its presence, neither the ATLAS nor the CMS Collaborations had made claims. This is very typical of scientists: one should not claim anything until it has been established beyond any conceivable doubt.

But many theorists and experimentalists, including myself, threw some of our caution to the air, not only because the chances it would vanish were so small but also because it would have been a much bigger discovery than that of the Higgs boson, generating much enthusiasm. As it stands, we all suspect that there are other particles out there, beyond the known ones, those described by the Standard Model of particle physics. But despite years spent looking for them, we still have nothing to chew on. In 2015, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN raised its operating energy, going from 8 TeV to the current 13 TeV, making the odds for a discovery stronger than ever since higher energy means access to territories never explored before.

So far, the 2015 data has not revealed any new particle or phenomena but the amount of data collected was really small. On the contrary, this year, the LHC is outperforming itself, having already delivered five times more data than last year. The hope is that these data will eventually reveal the first signs of something revolutionary. Dozens of new analyses based on the recent data will be presented until August 10 at the ICHEP conference and I’ll present some of them later on.

It took 48 years to discover the Higgs boson after it was first theoretically predicted when we knew what to expect. This time, we don’t even know what we are looking for. So it could still take a little longer. There is more to be found, we all know it. But when will we find it, is another story.

Pauline Gagnon

To find out more about particle physics, check out my book « Who Cares about Particle Physics: making sense of the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider and CERN ».

To be notified of new blogs, follow me on Twitter : @GagnonPauline or sign up on this distribution list



Earlier last month, Romania became the 22nd Member State of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, home to the world’s most powerful atom-smasher. But the hundred Romanian scientists working on experiments there have already operated under a co-operation agreement with CERN for the last 25 years. So why have Romania decided to commit the money and resources needed to become a full member? Is this just bureaucratic reshuffling or the road to a more fruitful collaboration between scientists?

Image: CERN

On 18th July, Romania became a full member state of CERN. In doing so, it joined twenty one other countries, which over the years have created one of the largest scientific collaborations in the world. Last year, the two largest experimental groups at CERN, ATLAS and CMS, broke the world record for the total number of authors on a research article (detailing the mass of the Higgs Boson).

To meet its requirements for becoming a member, Romania has committed $11mil USD towards the CERN budget this year, three times as much as neighbouring member Bulgaria and more than seven times as much as Serbia, which holds Associate Membership, aiming to follow in Romania’s footsteps. In return, Romania now holds a place on CERN’s council, having a say in all the major research decisions of the ground-breaking organization where the forces of nature are probed, antimatter is created and Higgs Bosons discovered.

Romania’s accession to the CERN convention marks another milestone in the organisation’s history of international participation over the last sixty years. In that time it has built bridges between the members of nations where diplomacy and international relations were less than favourable, uniting researchers from across the globe towards the goal of understanding the universe on its most fundamental level.

CERN was founded in 1954 with the acceptance of its convention by twelve European nations in a joint effort for nuclear research, the year where “nuclear research” included the largest ever thermonuclear detonation by the US in its history and the USSR deliberately testing the effects of nuclear radiation from a bomb on 45,000 of its own soldiers. Despite the Cold War climate and the widespread use of nuclear physics as a means of creating apocalyptic weapons, CERN’s founding convention alongside UNESCO, which member states adhere to today, states:

“The Organization shall provide for collaboration among European States in nuclear research of a pure scientific and fundamental character…The Organization shall have no concern with work for military requirements,”

The provisional Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Council for Nuclear Research) was dissolved and its legacy was carried by the labs built and operated under the convention it had laid and the name it bore: CERN. Several years later in 1959, the British director of the Proton Synchrotron division at CERN, John Adams, received a gift of vodka from Soviet scientist Vladimir Nikitin of the Dubna accelerator, just north of Moscow, and at the time the most powerful accelerator in the world. 

The vodka was to be opened in the event the Proton Synchrotron accelerator at CERN was successfully operated at an energy greater than Dubna’s maximum capacity: 10 GeV. It more than doubled the feat, reaching 24 GeV, and with the vodka dutifully polished off, the bottle was stuffed with a photo of the proton beam readout and sent back to Moscow.

John Adams, holding the empty vodka bottle in celebration of the Proton Synchroton’s successful start (Image: CERN-HI-5901881-1 CERN Document Server)

Soviet scientists contributed more than vodka to the international effort in particle physics. Nikitin would later go on to work alongside other soviet and US scientists in a joint effort at Fermilab in 1972. Over the next few decades, ten more member states would join CERN permanently, including Israel, its first non-European member. On top of this, researchers at CERN now join from four associate member nations, four observer states (India, Japan, USA and Russia) and holds a score of cooperation agreements with other non-member states.

While certainly the largest collaboration of this kind, CERN is certainly no longer unique in being a collaborative effort in particle physics. Quantum Diaries is host to the blogs of many experiments all of whom comprise of a highly diverse and internationally sourced research cohort. The synchrotron lab for the Middle East, SESAME, expected to begin operation next year, will involve both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities with hopes it “will foster dialogue and better understanding between scientists of all ages with diverse cultural, political and religious backgrounds,”. It was co-ordinated in part, by CERN.

I have avoided speaking personally so far, but one needs to address the elephant in the room. As a British scientist, I speak from a nation where the dust is only just settling on the decision to cut ties with the European Union, against the wishes of the vast majority of researchers. Although our membership to CERN will remain secure, other projects and our relationship with european collaborators face uncertainty.

While I certainly won’t deign to give my view on the matter of a democratic vote, it is encouraging to take a look back at a fruitful history of unity between nations and celebrate Romania’s new Member State status as a sign that that particle physics community is still, largely an integrated and international one. In the short year that I have been at University College London, I have not yet attended any international conferences, yet have had the pleasure to meet and learn from visiting researchers from all over the globe. As this year’s International Conference on High Energy Physics kicks off this week, (chock-full of 5-σ BSM discovery announcements, no doubt*), there is something comforting in knowing I will be sharing my excitement, frustration and surprise with like-minded graduate students from the world over.

Kind regards to Ashwin Chopra and Daniel Quill of University College London for their corrections and contributions, all mistakes are unreservedly my own.
*this is, obviously, playful satire, except for the case of an announcement in which case it is prophetic foresight.


The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has already delivered more high energy data than it had in 2015. To put this in numbers, the LHC has produced 4.8 fb-1, compared to 4.2 fb-1 last year, where fb-1 represents one inverse femtobarn, the unit used to evaluate the data sample size. This was achieved in just one and a half month compared to five months of operation last year.

With this data at hand, and the projected 20-30 fb-1 until November, both the ATLAS and CMS experiments can now explore new territories and, among other things, cross-check on the intriguing events they reported having found at the end of 2015. If this particular effect is confirmed, it would reveal the presence of a new particle with a mass of 750 GeV, six times the mass of the Higgs boson. Unfortunately, there was not enough data in 2015 to get a clear answer. The LHC had a slow restart last year following two years of major improvements to raise its energy reach. But if the current performance continues, the discovery potential will increase tremendously. All this to say that everyone is keeping their fingers crossed.

If any new particle were found, it would open the doors to bright new horizons in particle physics. Unlike the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, if the LHC experiments discover a anomaly or a new particle, it would bring a new understanding of the basic constituents of matter and how they interact. The Higgs boson was the last missing piece of the current theoretical model, called the Standard Model. This model can no longer accommodate new particles. However, it has been known for decades that this model is flawed, but so far, theorists have been unable to predict which theory should replace it and experimentalists have failed to find the slightest concrete signs from a broader theory. We need new experimental evidence to move forward.

Although the new data is already being reconstructed and calibrated, it will remain “blinded” until a few days prior to August 3, the opening date of the International Conference on High Energy Physics. This means that until then, the region where this new particle could be remains masked to prevent biasing the data reconstruction process. The same selection criteria that were used for last year data will then be applied to the new data. If a similar excess is still observed at 750 GeV in the 2016 data, the presence of a new particle will make no doubt.

Even if this particular excess turns out to be just a statistical fluctuation, the bane of physicists’ existence, there will still be enough data to explore a wealth of possibilities. Meanwhile, you can follow the LHC activities live or watch CMS and ATLAS data samples grow. I will not be available to report on the news from the conference in August due to hiking duties, but if anything new is announced, even I expect to hear its echo reverberating in the Alps.

Pauline Gagnon

To find out more about particle physics, check out my book « Who Cares about Particle Physics: making sense of the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider and CERN », which can already be ordered from Oxford University Press. In bookstores after 21 July. Easy to read: I understood everything!


The total amount of data delivered in 2016 at an energy of 13 TeV to the experiments by the LHC (blue graph) and recorded by CMS (yellow graph) as of 17 June. One fb-1 of data is equivalent to 1000 pb-1.


Le Grand collisionneur de hadrons (LHC) du CERN a déjà produit depuis avril plus de données à haute énergie qu’en 2015. Pour quantifier le tout, le LHC a produit 4.8 fb-1 en 2016, à comparer aux 4.2 fb-1 de l’année dernière. Le symbole fb-1 représente un femtobarn inverse, l’unité utilisée pour évaluer la taille des échantillons de données. Tout cela en à peine un mois et demi au lieu des cinq mois requis en 2015.

Avec ces données en réserve et les 20-30 fb-1 projetés d’ici à novembre, les expériences ATLAS et CMS peuvent déjà repousser la limite du connu et, entre autres, vérifier si les étranges événements rapportés fin 2015 sont toujours observés. Si cet effet était confirmé, il révèlerait la présence d’une nouvelle particule ayant une masse de 750 GeV, soit six fois plus lourde que le boson de Higgs. Malheureusement en 2015, il n’y avait pas suffisamment de données pour obtenir une réponse claire. Après deux ans de travaux majeurs visant à accroître sa portée en énergie, le LHC a repris ses opérations l’an dernier mais à faible régime. Si sa performance actuelle se maintient, les chances de faire de nouvelles découvertes seront décuplées. Tout le monde garde donc les doigts croisés.

Toute nouvelle particule ouvrirait la porte sur de nouveaux horizons en physique des particules. Contrairement à la découverte du boson de Higgs en 2012, si les expériences du LHC révèlent une anomalie ou l’existence d’une nouvelle particule, cela modifierait notre compréhension des constituants de base de la matière et des forces qui les régissent. Le boson de Higgs constituait la pièce manquante du Modèle standard, le modèle théorique actuel. Ce modèle ne peut plus accommoder de nouvelles particules. On sait pourtant depuis des décennies qu’il est limité, bien qu’à ce jour, les théoriciens et théoriciennes n’aient pu prédire quelle théorie devrait le remplacer et les expérimentalistes ont échoué à trouver le moindre signe révélant cette nouvelle théorie. Une évidence expérimentale est donc absolument nécessaire pour avancer.

Bien que les nouvelles données soient déjà en cours de reconstruction et de calibration, elles resteront “masquées” jusqu’à quelques jours avant le 3 août, date d’ouverture de la principale conférence de physique cet été. D’ici là, la région où la nouvelle particule pourrait se trouver est masquée afin de ne pas biaiser le processus de reconstruction des données. A la dernière minute, on appliquera aux nouvelles données les mêmes critères de sélection que ceux utilisés l’an dernier. Si ces évènements sont toujours observés à 750 GeV dans les données de 2016, la présence d’une nouvelle particule ne fera alors plus aucun doute.

Mais même si cela s’avérait n’être qu’une simple fluctuation statistique, ce qui arrive souvent en physique de par sa nature, la quantité de données accumulée permettra d’explorer une foule d’autres possibilités. En attendant, vous pouvez suivre les activités du LHC en direct ou voir grandir les échantillons de données de CMS et d’ATLAS. Je ne pourrai malheureusement pas vous rapporter ce qui sera présenté à la conférence en août, marche en montagne oblige, mais si une découverte quelconque est annoncée, même moi je m’attends à entendre son écho résonner dans les Alpes.

Pauline Gagnon

Pour en apprendre plus sur la physique des particules, ne manquez pas mon livre « Qu’est-ce que le boson de Higgs mange en hiver et autres détails essentiels » disponible en librairie au Québec et en Europe, de meme qu’aux Editions MultiMondes. Facile à lire : moi, j’ai tout compris!


Graphe cumulatif montrant la quantité de données produites à 13 TeV en 2016 par le LHC (en bleu) et récoltées par l’expérience CMS (en jaune) en date du 17 juin.


Lab news

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Get the latest news from the world’s biggest science lab! All the facts, all the truth, totally verified and true beyond all reasonable doubt. 85% official news. Brought to you by the team that revealed Elvis landing on the moon.

ATLAS to install neutrino calorimeters

The ATLAS detector is currently the largest experiment on the CERN site, weighing over 7,000 tonnes, spanning 50 m across and almost 50 m long. It can detect nearly all particles produced in the record breaking high energy collisions provided by the LHC. These particles have strange names like the electron, proton, pion, Ξ(1530)3/2+, photon, friton, demi-semi-lepton and Boris. But there is a big problem, which becomes more pressing as we reach higher and higher energies, and that is the neutrino. This is a tiny, neutral, almost massless particle that was predicted in 1930, and it comes in different flavours (the most popular being mint.) The ATLAS Collaboration has an ambitious plan to extend the capabilities of its detector by being the first such general purpose detector to install neutrino calorimeters. At the moment a neutrino is seen as “missing transverse energy”, and that makes it really hard to find new particles.

ATLAS Spokesperson, Dave Charlton, said “Look I really don’t have time for this, I have to go to a meeting!”. After reporters blocked his path and stole his CERN card he added “Fine, how about ‘This is a very exciting time for ATLAS and we are happy to be leading the field in this area. Detecting neutrinos will open up new parameter space and allow to perform searches never seen before.’ Now give me my CERN card, the Weekly meeting cannot start without me.” By seeing neutrinos directly, physicists would be able to observe the annoying neutrino backgrounds that get in the way of dark matter searches. They could count the neutrinos directly to see if they agree with long standing predictions.

Proposals for the new ATLAS neutrino calorimeters

Proposals for the new ATLAS neutrino calorimeters

But not everyone is happy with the proposal. We spoke to a neutrino expert, and after she closed the door on us, we went to Wikipedia. Apparently neutrinos are so bad at interacting that they need about one light years of lead before they can be seen. This would have some impact on the local (and not so local) area. We spoke with a representative from Geneva Airport. He said “If the proposed plans are succesful this would mean moving Geneva Airport. The people and businesses of Geneva rely on the airport for connections with the rest of the world. It would be very inconvenient and not very efficient to commute a light year to reach the airport. Most rental car contracts will not allow you travel that far.”

It’s not yet clear where the supply of lead will come from. A sphere of solid lead would contain more than the global supply, even if every atom was liberated from the Earth’s crust. We would need 38 orders of magnitude more than there is on the planet. That’s more than a million million million. It’s lots. There is also a problem with the sheer size of the proposal. “There are problems we still have to solve”, said an ATLAS physicist “We have a Solar Passage Working Group, and NASA is helping us deal with other local astronomical bodies that might pose impact challenges. Trigger is an issue. Right now it takes about 100 milliseconds to trigger an event. With the new neutrino calorimeters it could take up to 3 years.”

The proposals, if approved, will be implemented by 2600.

CMS developing “truth matching” for data

For decades the CMS Collaboration has used a common tool known as “truth matching” with its simulation studies. Every particle in a simulation has information associated with it, including its mass, energy, charge, momentum, spin, and favourite movies. All these quantities have to be estimated using measurements from the simulated detector, so they are never perfectly known. However with a simulation you can match up the particles to what really happened with the so-called “truth record”, and this is what we call truth matching. If you have a particle travelling with a certain momentum in a certain direction you can compare it to the truth record and find out exactly what kind of particle it is. That means you no longer need those tricky identification algorithms, and you can remove background processes trivially.

“This makes my analysis super easy!” said one CMS student. “I might even graduate next week.” Truth matching has been applied to simulations for several decades, and it it is unique in being the only method that has not also been applied to data. Everything else, from machine learning to Bayesian analysis, have been developed using simulation before being moved over to real data. By employing ouija boards, dowsing techniques, and Feng Shui, CMS psychics have reported initial success. “There are definitely a lot of protons in the LHC beam.” one said. The LHC beam does indeed contain about a million million protons per bunch, and this has been seen by some as a sign of confirmation of the method. Others are more skeptical. “Those protons could have come from the magnets or the pipes. There’s a lot of matter in these tunnels. The results prove nothing.”

One of the first complete data events to be truth matched, a diphoton Higgs decay

One of the first complete data events to be truth matched, a diphoton Higgs decay

If the truth matching of data is successful, it could lead to a revolution in particle physics. Detectors could be slimmed down, time could be saved in the analysis process, and the peer review process would be streamlined. “Rather than having to measure the levels of signal and background, a process that can take months, we can simply count how many electrons bosons we have.” The initial findings are only the first step, and there are plans to extend the data truth matching to more complex final states. It’s expected that by 2019 the CMS Collaboration will be able to truthmatch Higgs bosons, top quarks, and even new particles we’ve never seen before.

A tearful Polish professor, who pioneered the use of the famous ‘pseudorapidity’ variable said “I have been waiting for this breakthrough my entire career. This will make the lives of so many scientists so much simpler.”

LHCb made a big blunder, and you won’t believe what it is!

Senior LHCb physicists were left red faced today when they discovered a terrible blunder. “How could we not have seen this?” Spokesperson Guy Wilkinson said. “It’s been staring us in the face for years” blurted Operations Coordinator Barbara Storaci.

LHCb, a huge science machine that lives underground on the Franco-Swiss border, is hiding a huge secret. Sources on reddit tell us “This kind of hting happens al the time. The Eiffel Tower was bilt up-side-down for the frist few weeks.” and “OMG! WTF? ORLY?”

Can you see what’s wrong with this picture? 98% of people can’t!

The LHCb schematic, with the approved geometry

The LHCb schematic, with the approved geometry

It turns out that when LHCb was made, the engineers only built half a detector. “Now I see it I can’t unsee it!” exclaimed a postdoc, spilling crepe on the table as he spoke.

“It may be true that we only built half a detector”, an anonymous researcher said “but at least it was the forward half.” So far there are no plans to correct the problem, and the Collaboration has already produced hundreds of world class papers with the current detector and shows no signs of stopping.

ALICE alchemists quit after years of research

A team of alchemists working on the ALICE Collaboration have today announced that their research program will end today. The collection of six pesudoscientists, a small minority of the total Collaboration, are hanging up their lab coats after declaring their research “unworkable” and “a total abysmal failure”. The ALICE Collaboration investigates the collisions of Lead ions with other particles in the LHC. The Collaboration has been responsible for a wide range of discoveries concerning the quark-gluon plasma, which is a form of primordial matter from the early universe.

The STAR experiment contained real Gold atoms

The STAR experiment contained real Gold atoms

However it is not the quark-gluon plasma that the small band of alchemists are studying. Instead they want to turn the Lead into Gold, and they want to use the LHC to do it. Most of them came from the previous generation of ion collider experiments, based in Brookhaven, New York. At those facilities there was an abundance of Gold in the experimental apparatus, and it the alchemists looked to replicate this success.

“I just don’t understand” said Bob Bobbatrop, the Master Mage “we had so much success with the RHIC accelerator! The LHC must be producing negative energy fields and the crystals in our detector must be misaligned.” ALICE Spokesperson, Paolo Giubellino, was quick to distance himself from the misfit alchemists. “They are not representative of the Collaboration as a whole, and frankly, I don’t know how they got in here in the first place. The RHIC facility in Brookhaven collided Gold ions, so of course these so-called alchemists found Gold. They’d have to be even stupider not to find it there! This is why we have a peer review process. We’ve even started to arrange psuedomeetings in a local coffee shop where they present their results, and they haven’t yet noticed that most of the people listening are tourists. Even the local barista rolls her eyes when they talk. Meanwhile we can get on with the real research.”

But like a gauge violating wavefunction, Bob Bobbatrop is not phased. “We have vastly superior software! When we need a random number we don’t rely on a C++ library, we use a 20 sided die. You can’t get more serious than that.”

Cryogenics team start charity drive

Do you have any old, unwanted fridge magnets? You can send them to CERN! Last year the cryogenics team at CERN faced problems that lead to the failure of some magnets. Now, a charity drive is starting where you can donate your old magnets, and these will be attached to the outside of failing magnets to give them a boost. “We accept any magnets! That magnet you purchased on vacation? Yes, we’ll take it. Do you have magnetic letters? We will take those too.”

Donated magnets in the staging and testing area

Donated magnets in the staging and testing area

Some magnets are more useful than others. Magnets with mini thermometers can help engineers keep track of the state of the supercooled LHC magnets. The resident artists at CERN have expressed an interest in the magnetic “fridge poetry” packs. Magnets that feature cats will be used in the RF cavity sector. So please, take a look at your fridge, and see if you really need that snow globe magnet from Oslo, or that hula girl magnet from Hawai’i. Why leave it sitting in your kitchen when it can be helping research on the world’s largest machine?

Creative solution to poster defacement row

In recent weeks the media has reported on defacement of the LGBT CERN posters at the lab, with many being removed or subject to grafitti. CERN Director General, Fabiola Gianotti, has taken these incidents very seriously. “The targeting of a single group of posters for abuse like this unacceptable” she said, “and so I have made the decision that from now on, all types posters at CERN will be removed or defaced. CERN is a lab of equal opportunities, and it must be free from discrimination.”

Teams of administrators, including Gianotta herself, have been seen walking the corridors of CERN and instituting this new policy. Posters announcing a SUSY conference have had “NO MORE SYMMTRY BRAKING HERE!!1!” scrawled across them, and a poster advertising a symposium on solar neutrinos was subjected to “Go back to where you came from. The sun.” written on it. Even parking signs are not immune, with slogans such as “Parking? More like… splarking!” and a fire exit sign was seen with a neatly written note underneath saying “They had fire in Hitler’s Germany too, you know”.

One of the many posters subject to the new policy

One of the many posters subject to the new policy

By attacking all signs and posters at the lab, the aim is to make nobody feel victimised or isolated. Staff are encouraged to use their own initiative and are recommended to mutter incoherently under their breath as they do so. “If nothing else” one technician said “it’s made the lab more surreal. I don’t even know how much a coffee is anymore. Apparently it’s now one ‘WHY ARE YOU READING THIS?!’, but it used to be 1.60 CHF.”

LIGO result explained

In February 2016, the LIGO experiment announced it had observed gravitational waves, predicted over a century ago by Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The discovery is thought to have come from the merging of two massive black holes, from over a billion light years away. However, two students have come forward to say that they created the waves in their apartment, using a waffle iron, an iPhone, and the cluck of a chicken. “We’ve been working on this prank for weeks” said the first student, “and we had no idea it would be taken seriously!” The second student added “We had to eat so many Pringles to get enough tubes for the wave generator.”

Captain McNuggets, relaxing in the garden

Captain McNuggets, relaxing in the garden

The real hero of the story is their chicken, Captain McNuggets, who made the characteristic “chirp” sound. So did LIGO really detect gravitational waves? “Oh, absolutely!” the pair of students replied. The machine they made could produce gravitational waves of any frequency and amplitude desired, but it was only made “for a bit of a laugh” and is unlikely to see further research. The machine itself was dismantled in October to make space for their latest project, the “ballistic taco-launcher”.


There has been a lot of press about the recent DØ result on the possible \(B_s \pi\) state. This was also covered on Ricky Nathvani’s blog. At Moriond QCD, Jeroen Van Tilburg showed a few plots from LHCb which showed no signal in the same mass regions as explored by D∅. Tomorrow, there will be a special LHC seminar on the LHCb search for purported tetraquark, where we will get the full story from LHCb. I will be live blogging the seminar here! It kicks off at 11:50 CET, so tune in to this post for live updates.

Mar 22, 2016 -12:23. Final answer. LHCb does not confirm the tetraquark. Waiting for CMS, ATLAS, CDF.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:24. How did you get the result out so fast? A lot of work by the collaboration to get MC produced and to expedite the process.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:21. Is the \(p_T\) cut on the pion too tight? The fact that you haven’t seen anything anywhere else gives you confidence that the cut is safe. Also, cut is not relative to \(B_s\).

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:18. Question: What are the fractions of multiple candidates which enter? Not larger than 1.2. If you go back to the cuts. What selection killed the combinatoric background the most? Requirement that the \(\pi\) comes from the PV, and the \(p_T\) cut on the pion kill the most. How strong the PV cut? \(\chi^2\) less than 3.5 for the pion at the PV, you force the \(B_s\) and the pion to come from the PV, and constrain the mass of \(B_s\) mass.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:17: Can you go above the threshold? Yes.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:16. Slide 9: Did you fit with a floating mass? Plan to do this for the paper.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:15. Wouldn’t \(F_S\) be underestimated by 8%? Maybe maybe not.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:13. Question: Will LHCb publish? Most likely yes, but a bit of politics. Shape of the background in the \(B_s\pi\) is different in LHCb and DØ. At some level, you expect a peak from the turn over. Also CMS is looking.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:08-12:12. Question: did you try the cone cut to try to generate a peak? Answer: Afraid that the cut can give a biased estimate of the significance. From DØ seminar, seems like this is the case. For DØ to answer. Vincenzo Vagnoni says that DØ estimation of significance is incorrect. We also don’t know if there’s something that’s different between \(pp\) and \(p \bar{p}\).

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:08. No evidence of \(X(5568)\) state, set upper limit. “We look forward to hearing from ATLAS, CMS and CDF about \(X(5568)\)”

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:07. What if the production of the X was the same at LHCb? Should have seen a very large signal. Also, in many other spectroscopy plots, e.g. \(B*\), look at “wrong sign” plots for B and meson. All results LHCb already searched for would have been sensitive to such a state.

Mar 22, 2016 -12:04. Redo the analysis in bins of rapidity. No significant signal seen in any result. Do for all pt ranges of the Bs.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:03. Look at \(B^0\pi^+\) as a sanity check. If X(5568) is similar to B**, then the we expect order 1000 events.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:02.Upper limits on production given.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:02. Check for systematics: changing mass and width of DØ range, and effect of efficiency dependence on signal shape are the dominant sources of systematics. All measurements dominated by statistics.

Mar 22, 2016 – 12:00. Result of the fits all consistent with zero. The relative production is also consistent with zero.

Mar 22, 2016 – 11:59. 2 fits with and without signal components, no difference in pulls. Do again with tighter cut on the transverse momentum of the \(B_s\). Same story, no significant signal seen.

Mar 22, 2016 – 11:58. Fit model: S-wave Breit-Wigner, mass and width fixed to DØ result. Backgrounds: 2 sources. True \(B_s^0\) with random track, and fake \(B_s\).

Mar 22, 2016 – 11:56.  No “cone cut” applied because it is highly correlated with reconstructed mass.

Mar 22, 2016 – 11:55. LHCb strategy: Perform 3 independent searches, confirm a qualitative approach, move forward with single approach with Run 1 dataset. Cut based selection to match D∅ strategy. Take home point. Statistics is 20x larger and much cleaner.

Mar 22, 2016 – 11:52. Review of DØ result. What could it be? Molecular model is disfavored. Diquark-Antidiquark models are popular. But could not fit into any model. Could also be feed down of  radiative decays. All predictions have large uncertainties

Mar 22, 2016 –  11:49. LHCb-CONF-2016-004 posted at cds.cern.ch/record/2140095/

Mar 22, 2016 – 11:47. The speaker is transitioning to Marco Pappagallo .

Mar 22, 2016 – 11:44. People have begun entering the auditorium for the talk, at the end of Basem Khanji’s seminar on \(\Delta m_d\)



Has CERN discovered a new particle or not? Nobody knows yet, although we are now two steps closer than in December when the first signs of a possible discovery were first revealed.

First step: both the ATLAS and CMS experiments showed yesterday at the Moriond conference that the signal remains after re-analyzing the 2015 data with improved calibrations and reconstruction techniques. The faint signal still stands, even slightly stronger (see the Table). CMS has added new data not included earlier and collected during a magnet malfunction. Thanks to much effort and ingenuity, the reanalysis now includes 20% more data. Meanwhile, ATLAS showed that all data collected at lower energy up to 2012 were also compatible with the presence of a new particle.

The table below shows the results presented by CMS and ATLAS in December 2015 and February 2016. Two hypotheses were tested, assuming different characteristics for the hypothetical new particle: the “spin 0” case corresponds to a new type of Higgs boson, while “spin 2” denotes a graviton.

The label “local” means how strong the new signal appears locally at a mass of 750 or 760 GeV, while “global” refers to the probability of finding a small excess over a broad range of mass values. In physics, statistical fluctuations come and go. One is bound to find a small anomaly when looking all over the place, which is why it is wise to look at the bigger picture. So globally, the excess of events observed so far is still very mild, far from the 5σ criterion required to claim a discovery. The fact that both experiments found it independently is what is so compelling.



But mostly, the second step, we are closer to potentially confirming the presence of a new particle simply because the restart of the Large Hadron Collider is now imminent. New data are expected for the first week of May. Within 2-3 months, both experiments will then know.

We need more data to confirm or refute the existence of a new particle beyond any possible doubt. And that’s what experimental physicists are paid to do: state what is known about Nature’s laws when there is not even the shadow of a doubt.

That does not mean than in the meantime, we are not dreaming since if this were confirmed, it would be the biggest breakthrough in particle physics in decades. Already, there is a frenzy among theorists. As of 1 March, 263 theoretical papers have been written on the subject since everybody is trying to find out what this could be.

Why is this so exciting? If this turns out to be true, it would be the first particle to be discovered outside the Standard Model, the current theoretical framework. The discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 had been predicted and simply completed an existing theory. This was a feat in itself but a new, unpredicted particle would at long last reveal the nature of a more encompassing theory that everybody suspects exists but that nobody has found yet. Yesterday at the Moriond conference, Alessandro Strumia, a theorist from CERN, also predicted that this particle would probably come with a string of companions.

Theorists have spent years trying to imagine what the new theory could be while experimentalists have deployed heroic efforts, sifting through huge amounts of data looking for the smallest anomaly. No need to say then that the excitement is tangible at CERN right now as everybody is holding their breath, waiting for new data.

Pauline Gagnon

To learn more about particle physics and what might be discovered at the LHC, don’t miss my upcoming book : « Who cares about particle physics : Making sense of the Higgs boson, Large Hadron Collider and CERN »

To be alerted of new postings, follow me on Twitter: @GagnonPauline  or sign-up on this mailing list to receive an e-mail notification.


Le CERN a-t-il découvert une nouvelle particule ou pas? Personne ne le sait encore, bien que nous ayons maintenant fait deux pas de plus depuis le dévoilement des premiers signes d’une possible découverte en décembre.

Premier pas : les expériences ATLAS et CMS ont montré hier à la conférence de Moriond que les signes d’un signal persistent après la réanalyse des données de 2015 à l’aide de calibrations et de techniques de reconstruction améliorées. Le faible signal est même légèrement renforci (voir tableau). CMS a ajouté de nouvelles données recueillies durant une défaillance de leur aimant. Après beaucoup d’efforts et d’ingéniosité, ceci ajoute 20 % de données supplémentaires. De son côté, ATLAS a montré que toutes les données accumulées à moindre énergie jusqu’à 2012 étaient aussi compatibles avec la présence d’une nouvelle particule.

Le tableau ci-dessous montre les résultats présentés par CMS et ATLAS en décembre 2015 et février 2016. Deux hypothèses ont été testées, chacune correspondant à des caractéristiques différentes pour cette hypothétique particule : “spin 0” correspond à un nouveau type de boson de Higgs, tandis que “spin 2” dénote un graviton.

Local” se réfère à l’intensité du signal lorsque mesuré pour une particule ayant une masse de 750 ou 760 GeV, tandis que “global” indique la probabilité de trouver un petit excès sur une large gamme de valeurs de masse. En physique, les fluctuations statistiques sont monnaies courantes. On trouve toujours une petite anomalie lorsqu’on cherche dans tous les coins. Il est donc sage de prendre en compte un intervalle élargi. Globalement donc, l’excédent d’événements observé est toujours très limité. On est encore bien loin de la barre des 5σ, le critère utilisé pour une découverte. Ce qui est très fort par contre, c’est que les deux expériences l’ont trouvé indépendamment.


Le deuxième et bien plus grand pas franchi, c’est que la confirmation possible de la présence d’une nouvelle particule se rapproche simplement parce que la reprise du Grand Collisionneur de Hadrons est imminente. On attend les nouvelles données début mai. Dans 2 ou 3 mois, les deux expériences connaîtront enfin la réponse

Mais sans plus de données, impossible de confirmer ou réfuter l’existence d’une nouvelle particule avec certitude. Et c’est justement pour cela qu’on paie les physiciens et physiciennes: déterminer les lois de la Nature sans qu’il ne subsiste l’ombre d’un doute.

Cela n’empêche personne de rêver en attendant, car si ceci était confirmé, ce serait la plus grande percée en physique des particules depuis des décennies. Déjà, la frénésie s’est emparée des théoriciens et théoriciennes. On comptait en date du premier mars 263 articles théoriques sur le sujet. Tout le monde essaye de déterminer ce que cela pourrait être.

Pourquoi est-ce si passionnant ? Si elle existe, ce serait la première particule à être découverte à l’extérieur du Modèle Standard, la théorie actuelle. La découverte du boson de Higgs en 2012 avait été prévue et avait simplement complété une théorie existante. Un exploit, bien sûr, mais la découverte d’une particule imprévue révèlerait enfin la nature d’une théorie plus vaste dont tout le monde soupçonne l’existence, mais qui n’a pas encore été trouvée. Hier à la conférence de Moriond, Alessandro Strumia, un théoricien du CERN, a prédit que cette particule s’accompagnerait probablement d’une kyrielle de nouvelles particules.

Les théoriciens et théoriciennes ont passé des années à essayer d’imaginer cette nouvelle théorie tandis que du côté expérimental, on a déployé des efforts héroïques à trier des quantités faramineuses de données à la recherche de la moindre anomalie. Nul besoin de dire que l’atmosphère est fébrile en ce moment au CERN; tout le monde retient son souffle en attendant les nouvelles données.

Pauline Gagnon

Pour en savoir plus sur la physique des particules et les enjeux du LHC, consultez mon livre : « Qu’est-ce que le boson de Higgs mange en hiver et autres détails essentiels», en librairie en France et en Suisse dès le 1er mai.

Pour recevoir un avis lors de la parution de nouveaux blogs, suivez-moi sur Twitter: @GagnonPauline ou par e-mail en ajoutant votre nom à cette liste de distribution.