Yearning for New Physics at CERN, in a Post-Higgs Way

In other experiments, meanwhile, increasingly sensitive efforts to capture the putative dark matter particles drifting in space (and through our bodies) have also come up empty, and theorists have started turning to more complicated ideas for what nature might be doing in the dark.

Last year, some scientists gathered in Copenhagen to pay off bets, with bottles of expensive cognac, they had made that supersymmetry would appear by now.

“Many of my colleagues are desperate,” said Hermann Nicolai of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany. “They have invested their careers in this.”

The idea that the Large Hadron Collier would discover the Higgs boson but nothing else has long been physicists’ worst nightmare. Among other things, it would leave them with no explanation for their greatest achievement: the Higgs itself.

According to CERN, the long-sought boson, the keystone to the Standard Model, weighs 125 billion electron volts, or as much as a whole iodine atom. But that is ridiculously too light, according to theoretical calculations. The mass of the Higgs should be some thousands of quadrillion times as high.

The cause is quantum weirdness, one principle of which is that anything that is not forbidden will happen. That means the Higgs calculation must include the effects of its interactions with all other known particles, including so-called virtual particles that can wink in and out of existence.

Theorists have to doctor their equations for the Higgs and other numbers to come out right under the Standard Model.

But when the alleged supersymmetric particles are inserted in the mix, a miracle occurs. They cancel out the effects of the other particles, leaving the Higgs with a perfectly finite, normal mass. This is the way nature should be, they say.

Supersymmetry is such a general idea that there is always another version that can be proposed.

Not everybody is ready to give up on…

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