Physics of the Universe Summit

The New York Times today reports on a Physics of the Universe Summit held a week or so ago in LA. According to the Times, participants stayed at “a Hollywood hotel known long ago as the ‘Riot Hyatt,’ for the antics of rock stars who stayed there.” Talks were a couple miles south at the SpaceX factory, Larry Page of Google was there “handing out new Google phones to his friends”, the magician David Blaine performed card tricks, and Bob Dylan’s son Jesse showed some sort of film about the LHC. The only other information about this that seems to be available on the web is Sean Carroll’s blog posting here, where he gives a link to the slides of his talk.

Optimist Gordy Kane claimed that the LHC will soon discover supersymmetry, making physics on the verge of seeing “the bottom of the iceberg”. Lisa Randall (who evidently has a new book planned about science and the LHC) argued instead for focusing on less grandiose small problems. She was skeptical about supersymmetry, pointing out that we should have seen various evidence of it by now, and that the “wimp miracle” of a stable superpartner explaining dark matter doesn’t work well “without some additional fiddling with its parameters.” Joe Lykken summarized the situation as:

We’re confused, and we’re probably going to be confused for a long time.

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9 Responses to Physics of the Universe Summit

  1. willman says:

    “less grandiose small problems” – does this mean that Randall has given up hope for finding evidence of large extra dimensions?

  2. Bee says:

    Gosh, if the meeting was as fuzzy and content-free as the article, it was a total waste of time and money. Always the same people telling each other always the same things. Avoid groupthink? Figure out what it is to begin with.

  3. Harrison says:

    unreal, the nyt reporter offers virtually zero insight from a meeting he spent days covering.

  4. Peter Woit says:


    I disagree completely. The article seemed to me to do an excellent job of capturing the mood and discussions of this kind of meeting (for example, that people spend time arguing “is this subject depressing right now or not?”). It even included a reasonable explanation of some of the more technical arguments, for example Randall on the problems of supersymmetry.

  5. Michael says:

    If anything proves that we need new data, the quoted statements from this “conference” do!

    The hubris of trying to replicate a speech by David Hilbert with a conference called “The Physics of the Universe” is a bit too much for my taste. Staging contending camps of optimists and pessimists to duel on-stage is rather contrived. Have some of these people simply been to too many conferences and are no longer stimulated by the usual discussions among experts of concrete problems and puzzles?

    One could also complain about some very sloppy statements – CMS is not Maria Spiropulu’s detector, and the LHC experiments have only looked at a few thousand min-bias events at 900 GeV. This is a far cry from “recapitulating much of the physics of the 20th century.” This is hyper-hyperbole.

    Lisa Randall’s comment is the most interesting one, given that her fame comes from some very big and bold ideas. It would be nice to know what are the small problems that interest her – I guess we will see.

    I am most grateful for Mark Wise’s reminder that we have no reason to be depressed given the accomplishments of the Tevatron program and the turn-on of the LHC. Hopefully only a few people will be blasé about that. I can think of a few hundred, or even a few thousand experimenters who are very excited to finally get a chance to probe physics at much higher energy scales. Who knows – maybe conferences next year will focus on the interpretation of those data rather than on overblown big questions…

  6. M says:

    by the way, why the NYT journalist always writes about Maria Spiropulu?

  7. John Baez says:

    Physics “of the universe”? As opposed to what?

    I thought all physics was supposed to be about the universe. But I guess I’m just old-fashioned.

  8. Peter Woit says:


    As opposed to “physics of the multiverse” I suppose…

  9. Michael, agreed – cms is not Maria’s own, and it has not recapitulated much of last century’s physics! But neither “few thousand minimum bias collisions” is a fair description. Not even the “50,000” that Dennis reported about in his NYT piece.
    Cms collected, as you know, over 500,000 good collisions. This is nothing compared to what is in store for this year, of course, but it is enough to keep us busy with not totally irrelevant physics measurements. W and Z bosons will have to wait, but misrepresenting the situation one way may be as nocuous as misrwpresenging it the other way.
    Apart from that, I share much of your feelings.

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