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Physics crunch: Time to boost the energy?
27 February 2013 by Lisa Randall Magazine issue 2906. Subscribe and save For similar stories, visit the Quantum World Topic Guide
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Answers beyond the standard model may lie beyond our reach, worries Lisa Randall Read more: "Crunch time for physics: What's next?" If the theory of supersymmetry addresses one of the standard model's central problems – the weakness of gravity compared with the other fundamental forces – the extra particles it predicts should have relatively low masses. Many people were sanguine when the Large Hadron Collider was switched on that signs of supersymmetry were just around the corner. In truth, though, previous accelerator experiments had already pretty much ruled out the simplest has finally done versions of supersymmetry. The no-show of low-energy particles at the LHC for them. If supersymmetry is to do all it is supposed to do, it must have a more subtle, complex form involving particles at higher mass scales. Supersymmetry is not the only possible answer, however. The LHC is also searching for evidence of other scenarios, including a model that my colleague Raman Sundrum and I first proposed in 1999. It is based on the idea that our four-dimensional cosmos is situated on a "brane" within a universe with an extra, warped fifth dimension. The graviton, the as-yet hypothetical elementary particle that transmits gravity, is concentrated off this brane, accounting for the force's relative weakness. Such models predict particles that gain momentum from the extra dimension, looking to us like familiar particles but with bigger masses. Their masses should be at least a few teraelectronvolts and perhaps higher. At low mass, the partner particles will be observable – but the likelihood of the LHC producing particles drops off precipitously above a few teraelectronvolts. That leaves us in a worrisome situation. Until the LHC sees something, it is not clear which theoretical direction is correct. If the LHC sees nothing more, it will be hard to make the case to build something bigger, even though the absence of discovery would be the strongest argument for a higher energy machine. I'm not worried that nothing else exists in physics – but I am worried we might not have the wherewithal to find it. This article appeared in print under the headline "What's next Boost the energy" Lisa Randall is a theoretical physicist at Harvard University and author of Knocking on Heaven's Door (Vintage) and Higgs Discovery: The power of empty space (Bodley Head)

From issue 2906 of New Scientist magazine, page 47. As a subscriber, you have unlimited access to our online archive. Why not browse past issues of New Scientist magazine?

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