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Seth Zenz | Imperial College London | UK

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The Naming of Particles and Other Comments on Comments

I’ve been meaning to write a quick note thanking people for their comments on last week’s post about tracking.  When I spend a lot of time on making sure a post really explains something well, it means a lot to me to know that my effort succeeded.  (A note to readers who happen to be my advisor: I didn’t spend too long on it, I swear.  And anyway I was waiting for my code to compile.)  So, thanks!  While I’m here, I figure I might as well share an observation that occured to me while reading the comments, and then answer a question that was asked.

First the observation.  In my experience, if you go to a baseball game and point out that the people on the other side of the stadium “look like” a particle tracker for the ball, your friends stare at you as if you’re crazy.  And yet, if you write about particle physics and manage to compare it to baseball, then it goes over rather well as a feat of science explication.  I conclude from this that the trick to being a tremendous nerd while still being cool is to manage expectations; get your audience to expect you to be an even bigger nerd than you actually are, and they’ll be impressed.

Second, the question: Didi Mouse asked who gets to name any new particles we find.  The answer is that we don’t actually know yet, but it depends on what’s out there.  Many particles — for example, the Higgs boson — have been named already; if we make a discovery that looks more or less like a Higgs boson, we’ll call it a Higgs boson.  There are also theories that predict lots of new particles; often those particles are all named, but according to some regular rule.  For example, Supersymmetry predicts a new particle for every known fundamental particle.  The superpartners have the same name as the original, but with an “s” in front for some spins, and an “ino” at the end for others; electron becomes selectron, quark becomes squark, photon becomes photino, gluon becomes gluino, and (my favorite) W becomes Wino.  If we were sure we’d found Supersymmetry, we’d probably keep those names, but we won’t be sure at first what new theory the particles we’ve found fit into — so what will we do?  I expect the decision will be made as part of the experimental collaborations’ processes for writing and approving papers, because the name for a new particle usually comes from the paper that announces the discovery.  As far as I know, nobody has specific plans for how to handle the naming, but it is a problem we will be delighted to have.

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