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Flip Tanedo | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

Theory Grad Student Q&A (Part 1)

Hello everyone! My name is Flip, I’m a new US LHC blogger stationed at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. I’m excited to be joining the site and look forward to lots of posts and discussions. You can read more about me on my blogger bio. I thought I’d jump in with my first few posts in classic “question & answer” format.

What makes you different from the other bloggers here?

I am the first theoretical physicist (“theorist”) on the US LHC blog. One can categorize my research as “beyond the Standard Model phenomenology,” meaning I’m interested in developing and finding ways to test extensions of our current understanding of particle physics. I’m looking forward to delving deeper into many of these ideas in my future posts.

How are theorists and experimentalists different?

Just like experimentalists, theorists use tools and tinker with machinery to answer questions. The main difference is that the “tools” and “machinery” we use are more mathematical rather than tangible. The particular questions we ask might take on a different flavor than what experimentalists ask, but the broad research program goes completely hand-in-hand towards the same goal.

For example, one broad question in particle physics is to understand the nature of the Higgs boson — the particle which is responsible for giving other particles their masses. The experimental program to solve this question is to directly produce the Higgs boson to measure its properties. The key step towards this goal is building the LHC and designing detectors that will be able to measure the properties of any particles created. Along the way many talented people had to figure out tricky questions like the optimal way to identify which data is interesting or how to subtract ‘background’ events from detectors.

On the other hand, the theoretical program focuses on mechanisms that might explain the special role of the Higgs boson or even replace the Higgs with something else. The key steps taken here involve ideas for new kinds of physics (e.g. supersymmetry) that shed light on the role of the Higgs consistently within our broader understanding of nature. Along the way we’ve had to figure out our own tricky questions, like how one could detect the footprint of new physics or how to resolve issues in the mathematical consistency of certain models.

Both paths are necessary to make progress in particle physics and both groups move forward hand-in-hand. (And even this is a very simplified picture! There is a wide range of theoretical and experimental research associated with the LHC.)

Tune in next time for another installment of “theory grad student Q&A!”

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