20 Mar 2012
Trap of the Day: Neutrinos
(Image credit: the ICARUS-T600 detector installed in LNGS - HallB, retrieved here.)
The least massive, most weakly-interacting particles ever discovered, the elusive neutrino has, for decades, fascinated scientists and science enthusiasts alike. So far, they’re the only place in the Universe that’s provided us with hints of new physics beyond the standard model. Recently, we’ve used them to do some amazing things, such as sending neutrino-mediated messages through the Earth, possibly making them the wi-fi of the future! We’ve also observed one type of neutrino spontaneously changing into another type, which could explain why there’s more matter than anti-matter in the Universe!
But all the rage lately has focused on the question of whether neutrinos could possibly travel faster than the speed of light, or whether the experiment —OPERA — that reported this result was simply in error.
When the results from a rival experiment — ICARUS — came in, the neutrino trap was all over the latest results. Some of the best stories and headlines?
→ Adagio, OPERA,
→ Neutrinos ‘slow down’ in new test,
→ Neutrinos, Wishful Thinking, and the Sloth of Science,
→ Too fast to be true, and my own choice,
→ The Fat Lady Sings for OPERA.
These experiments are an amazing testament to the power of the scientific method, as we take another giant step forward in our understanding of science: the story that the Universe tells us about itself!
13 Dec 2011
Trap of the Day: Large Hadron Collider
(Image credit: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images, retrieved here.)
After more than a decade of construction, testing, calibrating, and data taking, the most powerful particle accelerator in the history of the world — CERN’s Large Hadron Collider — is ready to announce whether they’ve found the elusive Higgs Boson. Known as The God Particle (because Leon Lederman’s editor wouldn’t let him call it “The Goddamn Particle”), the Higgs Boson is the last expected particle in the Standard Model to go undetected. And word on the street is that, for the first time, scientists have caught a glimpse of it.
Theorized to be responsible for the rest mass of all known fundamental particles, finding the Higgs would confirm our picture of how the Universe works. The absence of a Higgs would be a disaster for particle physics, while finding it in a particular energy range — between 120 and 140 GeV — would tremendously disfavor theorists’ favorite speculation: supersymmetry. (Despite what Joe Lykken says.) By accelerating particles to 99.9999991% the speed of light and colliding them together at full power, and doing it billions and billions of times, a huge number of stable-and-unstable particles stream through the most advanced detectors ever built. And when scientists reconstruct what led to those particle tracks, they can deduce how much more likely it is than not that there were Higgs bosons produced.
(Image credit: AP Photo / CERN / CMS, retrieved from CBS news.)
While there very likely won’t be enough data for a surefire, unambiguous detection, if both the CMS and ATLAS detectors independently see a signal in the same spot, this would be the first really compelling evidence we’d have for the last undiscovered piece of the particle physics puzzle. (If we’re lucky, at 99%+ confidence.) What will the announcement tell us, and what will we learn?
Check out the Large Hadron Collider trap, and come back anytime for the latest!