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Pauline Gagnon | |

View Blog | Read Bio

In search of the secret passage

LHC-page-1-3juin2015

Today begins the second operation period of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. By declaring “stable beams”, the LHC operators signal to physicists it is now safe to turn all their detectors on. After more than two years of intensive repair and consolidation work, the LHC now operates at higher energy. What do we hope to achieve?

The discovery of the Higgs boson in July 2012 completed the Standard Model of particle physics. This theoretical model describes all matter seen around us, both on Earth and in all stars and galaxies. But this is precisely the problem: this model only applies to what is visible in the Universe, namely 5% of its content in matter and energy. The rest consists of dark matter (27%) and dark energy (68%), two absolutely unknown substances. Hence the need for a more encompassing theory. But what is it and how can it be reached?

By operating the LHC at 13 TeV, we now have much more energy available to produce new particles than during the 2010-2012 period, when the proton collisions occurred at 8 TeV. Given that energy and mass are two forms of the same essence, the energy released during these collisions materialises, producing new particles. Having more energy means one can now produce heavier particles. It is as if one’s budget just went from 8000 euro to 13000 euro. We can “afford” bigger particles if they exist in Nature.

The Standard Model tells us that all matter is built from twelve basic particles, just like a construction set consisting of twelve basic building blocks and some “connectors” linking them together. These connectors are other particles associated with the fundamental forces. Since none of these particles has the properties of dark matter, there must still be undiscovered particles.

Which theory will allow us to go beyond the Standard Model? Will it be Supersymmetry, one of the numerous theoretical hypotheses currently under study. This theory would unify the particles of matter with the particles associated with the fundamental forces. But Supersymmetry implies the existence of numerous new particles, none of which has been found yet.

Will the LHC operating at 13 TeV allow us to produce some of these supersymmetric particles? Or will the entrance of the secret passage towards this “new physics” be revealed by meticulously studying a plethora of quantities, such as the properties of the Higgs boson. Will we discover that it establishes a link between ordinary matter (everything described by the Standard Model) and dark matter?

These are some of the many questions the LHC could clarify in the coming years. An experimental discovery would reveal the new physics. We might very well be on the verge of a huge scientific revolution.

For more information about particle physics and my book, see my website

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