Measured Against Reality

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Discovery From Fermilab

There was some very cool news out of Fermilab a couple of days ago. They found a particle called the B_s Meson (Pronounced B-sub-s). This is particularly strange particle that oscillates back and forth between matter and antimatter state 3 trillion times a second.

It’s a technological triumph, because these particles exist for fractions of a second before disintegrating into a haze of less exotic particles. The analysis needed to find them and determine the oscillation speed was immense, and took many years.

It’s also an unfortunate triumph for the Standard Model, which actually predicted that this particle exists. This wildly successful description of particles and their interactions has become a little bit more successful.

But why do I say “unfortunate triumph”? Well, most particle physicists feel that the Standard Model is no the whole picture, that it’s incomplete somehow. But until we break it, we don’t really know where to go. So each confirmation of a prediction just means that we’re dealing with the same old physics, instead of moving on to new physics. As I’ve said before, scientists (particle physicists especially) like to break their theories to see what’s incomplete.

That’s why the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is so exciting. It will probe energies never before reached, and hopefully break the Standard Model and show us where we need to be looking for future theories. There’s also the hope of observing things like the Higgs particle, which is theorized to give all other particles mass (I might make that a separate post, because it’s a pretty interesting particle). There’s even a chance of making black holes. Don’t worry, they’d be so small that they’d evaporate almost instantly.

But it doesn’t open until 2007, and it will probably take a few years before results start to trickle out. Until then we have to keep using our “outdated” colliders, like SLAC and the Tevatron, to bring us discoveries such as this one.

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