Friday, November 16, 2012

The Higgs Boson and Supersymmetry.

On Wednesday night (November 14) Gordy Kane (the Victor Weisskopf Distinguished University Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan) gave a presentation for this November's Science Cafe. The Ann Arbor Science Cafes are hosted by the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History (formerly known as the Exhibit Museum) and are typically held once a month (except in summer).

Gordy's presentation was the Higg's Boson: What’s it all about?  What’s the evidence? What does it mean? What are the next steps? More info about the November Science Cafe.

One of my earlier posts talked about the Higg's (see "Saturday Morning Physics (October 6)"), I wont repeat that here, instead I'm going to describe what's next for CERN and the Large Hadron Collider.

Now that we have established that the Higgs boson exists, there is still work on probing the properties of the Higgs boson (or Higg bosons). But there is another unanswered question: supersymmetry.

What is supersymmetry? The standard model describes a collection of elementary particles. The most commonly observed of these particles are the photon, electron, up quark and down quark. The photon is responsible for light and the electric and magnetic forces (which physicists describe as a single electromagnetic force). The electron, up and down quarks combine to form protons, neutrons, atoms and molecules in the everyday world. Less commonly observed are two heavier versions of the electron, particles called neutrinos, four heavier quarks and various antiparticles. The photon belongs to a group of particles known as "bosons," there are other bosons as well. (See Wikipedia "The Standard Model").

Supersymmetry is an extension to the standard model: if supersymmetry is correct, each particle in the standard model has a "supersymmetric partner". The photo has a new partner called the photino. The electron has a new partner called the selectron. And so on. This doubles the number of particles. However none of these new particles have been observed, at least so far. (See Wikipedia "Supersymmetry").

The Large Hadron Collider is starting to look for these particles. If you are optimistic, it is possible hints of these new particles might show up in the next few months. A more cautious prediction: those hints might show up in the next few years.

So why care about supersymmetry? Knowledge gained from quantum mechanics and general relativity resulted in technologies such as transistors, computers, laser scanners, GPS, etc; probing the elementary structure of matter may result in new applications that we can't imagine today. Also supersymmetry may explain "dark matter": it is possible that dark matter is composed of supersymmetric particles. If we can prove these particles exist experimentally, that may help us understand dark matter.

(An outline of gravity and dark matter can be found at Gravity, Part 4: Globular Clusters & Galaxies. by Dave Snyder. Reflections of the University Lowbrow Astronomers: October, 2006).

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