European Strategy for Particle Physics

The CERN Council Strategy Group is putting together a document proposing a European stategy for particle physics, in a process to be completed this July. As part of this process, earlier this week the group held an Open Symposium at Orsay, and the presentations are now available on-line.

I’ve often written here about possible future plans for particle physics in the US, but these presentations give an excellent overview of what is going on in Europe, where the situation is quite a bit better than here. Several of the presentations discuss possible upgrades to the LHC: the SLHC (increased luminosity), the DLHC (doubled beam energy using more powerful magnets), and the LHeC (colliding electrons or positrons with protons, like HERA at DESY, but with 1.4 TeV center of mass energy). Pretty much all the presentations are worth taking a look at, several of them involve an impressive amount of work in putting together a lot of information into a very professional PowerPoint format.

The one presentation about particle theory is by Nigel Glover and compares the performance of European and American theorists by looking at citation counts. There’s a lot of interesting data, much of it showing American dominance, but keep in mind that there is a strong “Witten effect” in the data, since he is by far the most influential theorist around, especially in terms of number of citations.

Back here in the U.S., on Monday the Bush administration is releasing its FY2007 budget proposals. An outline of the DOE budget lists an 8% increase in HEP spending to $775.1 million, as well as full funding for RHIC. The NSF should also see a sizable increase as part of the so-called American Competitiveness Initiative. The folks over at Cosmic Variance are experiencing some cognitive dissonance.

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38 Responses to European Strategy for Particle Physics

  1. sunderpeeche says:

    That’s very good news that RHIC will be fully funded in FY2007 (if all goes well thru Congress). BNL has also considered plans for eRHIC (collide electrons against protons/ions). One hopes that such ideas get funded.

  2. Ponderer of Things says:

    Playing devil’s advocate (to some degree) – why should US be competitive in high energy physics? What possible practical return of investment can be expected from putting money in RHIC, Fermilab, LHC, ILC etc? To taxpayers scientists are thiefs who take their hard-earned money. How do you explain to taxpayers why it’s important to continue investing into giant colliders where we seem to be reaching area of diminishing returns? Wouldn’t that money be better spent for condensed matter/materials physics research, including nanotechnology, optics, spintronics etc? Never mind chemistry, biology and medicine – areas which produced plenty of bang for the buck already and will be expected to deliver in the near future.

    So – cure cancer and Alzheimers, or find out if string theory is a theory or just a theory about what a theory could be – which would you choose?

    8% increase is quite generous, considering there’s no big high-energy project in US past 2009…

  3. woit says:


    First thing to keep in mind is that US HEP funding is under $1 billion per year, which is less than .01% of US GDP. At this scale, HEP funding is not crowding out funding for anything else worthwhile. The amount of money already being spent on cancer research is at least an order of magnitude higher. You’re not going to cure cancer and Alzeimers with the marginal increase in funding for that kind of research you would get by reallocating HEP funding to those uses.

    Besides the small amount of HEP money going to string theory research (which I’ll agree should be redirected elsewhere), most of it is going to experimental projects, none of which actually have anything to do with testing string theory. They do have to do with understanding some very fundamental things like where mass comes from, and you can justify funding research on this in several legitimate ways:

    1. Technological spin-offs: for instance, improvements in accelerator technology could have all sorts of applications. If you look at the talk about new accelerating technologies that I recently posted about, you’ll see a comment that one beam instability being studied could at least conceivably provide a new route to fusion. A long shot, but for the relatively small sums being spent here, a small chance of a huge payoff is worth the money spent.

    2. Applications of whatever we learn: once we understand electroweak symmetry breaking and where mass comes from, chances are it won’t have any particularly useful application. But we don’t know, there is a chance of something truly dramatic coming out of this. If we discover a new stable particle (something supersymmetry advocates think exists), there are a lot of things you can imagine doing with it.

    3. Impractical things are important too: personally I don’t think all human activity should be devoted to trying to make us live longer and more comfortably. Like art, literature and many other human activities, scientific research designed to better understand the world is of value in and of itself. Much of this kind of thing doesn’t need to be publicly financed (arguments about public arts financing rage on and on), but unless we find a lot more hedge fund managers like Jim Simons who want to spend a lot more of their wealth on this, the only possible viable financing for HEP is public financing.

  4. anon says:

    1. Hot fusion would create a lot of radiation, the reactor would be irradiated with neutrons continuously. It’s not just a 50 year old pipe dream, it’s a dirty pipe dream. Any magnetic compression of a plasma is like squeezing an orange, the juice squirts out. You can just about get it to work with a massive amount of energy, meaning technical instabilities could cause it to blow up. It is just so expensive, dangerous and impractical when we have the sun pouring out fusion energy, I can’t believe anyone seriously is an enthusiast of fusion power stations anymore. Even Quantoken realises solar cell technology is the way to get fusion power – from the sun.

    2. Understanding where mass comes from is vital, but surely that is a case for more money for new ideas and theory that models reality? Without a proper set of alternative theories (not just stringy fantasy), nobody will know what experiments to do, or how to interpret results. If there is no money put into alternatives to stringy stuff, it will look as if any result must be (or can only be) evidence for one of the 10^500 possibilities covered by stringy stuff.

    3. ‘… impractical things are important too’. You’d make a devilish string theory proponent. I think the excitement has gone from high energy physics, the last really big event was 1983. It’s like trying to promote going to the moon. It’s a thing of the past, out of fashion.

  5. HEP is very related to the ultimate human quest for the meaning of life. There’s a reason Pauli and Jung sought out each other. Yes a pure conservative would like no government reaching into his pocket and a pure liberal would like us all to live munk-like and give lots of money to help the poor especially in third world countries. There needs to be a balance of course (for one thing both extremes would collapse the economy and there’d be no money for the pocket or the third world) and I think HEP deserves to be highly favored in the balance given its relation to the meaning of life.

    Peter and people like John Baez are certainly right that we need to go back and look at things that seem to have gotten skipped over as things got more and more complex and unrelated to the real world. It’s kind of embarassing not to have a well understood idea of where mass comes from. Peter’s comment that a GUT needs to have this built-in rather than being ad hoc sounds good. My first comment related to mass (given my many hours spent at Tony Smith’s website) would be “What is a leptoquark supposed to do anyways?”.

  6. woit says:


    1. Anyone who wants to discuss fusion should do this somewhere more appropriate.

    2. If your current theoretical ideas aren’t any good, that’s when you most need experimental results.

    3. If you think particle theory is out of fashion, so not worth thinking about, you’re spending your time reading the wrong blog.


    Please, discuss Tony Smith’s ideas about leptoquarks with him, or with other people somewhere else. That’s far off topic, and this is not sci.physics, it’s not a forum for people to try and start discussions of their favorite alternative ideas about particle physics. Allowing that quickly leads to a high level of noise drowning out any sensible discussion.

  7. SomeBody says:

    Peter, you say “under $1 billion” and make it sound like nothing to quibble about. That’s an easy trap to fall into; a billion bucks is an abstraction which nobody has a real feel for. So let’s try to develop one by comparing with median US household income. Asking Google, we find e.g.

    where we learn that the number in 2004 was $44,389 (and falling). Total taxation is roughly 30%, so we do

    1E9/(0.3*44,389) = 75093

    to find the number of households equivalent to 1 billion of tax dollars. Mind you, a household will generally mean a couple of adult workers + their offspring, so we are really talking the equivalent of O(1E5) people here going to work every day and then giving their every last tax dollar to HEP, leaving nothing for school, social security and so on.

    The ILC is expected to cost $12 billion or so. In other words, that project alone will require the equivalent of one million workers – from stock brokers to cleaning ladies – giving their every last tax dollar to HEP, leaving nothing for school, social security and so on.

    Money well spent? Maybe, maybe not. But the real question is: do you really think those who earned it would choose to spend it this way, if they were given a choice?

  8. J.F. Moore says:

    Ponderer – The following question of yours in particular is fallacious: “So – cure cancer and Alzheimers, or find out if string theory is a theory or just a theory about what a theory could be – which would you choose?”

    It’s not a genuine choice. Cancer research has been funded with large amounts of money for many years. This has resulted in great advances in understanding and treating cancer, but certainly no blanket ‘cure’. In fact, it is likely that the total cancer mortality rate has dropped more from people not smoking than from all treatment combined.

    It is not at all clear that even the extreme of ending all HEP work and diverting the money to cancer would have a significant effect on the existing effort, as it may already be well into the realm of dimenishing returns. Maintaining a healthy, diverse academia by supporting the field and attracting researchers from around the world is probably more important.

  9. anon says:

    Sorry Peter for my style. A definite prediction should be made before experiments, and this requires some revolutionary theory first, that can make the sort of predictions that can be tested.

  10. J.F. Moore says:

    SomeBody – that’s a fairly unreasonable way to look at it, since the burden is spread across the whole country, and since the top rate is fixed those with higher income pay disproportionately more. It then depends on what you choose to be a representative household, but I think the total bill for ILC would be under $50 for most of us.

    For another perspective, it would also be fair to compare this to other tangible things like the space shuttles, an aircraft carrier group, hurricane Katrina, etc. Yes, a billion dollars is a staggering amount of money, but it must be kept in perspective. The US is paying $350 billion a year annually in interest on our debt alone.

  11. woit says:


    I have several problems with your computations, including the fact that you use a price-tag for the ILC probably so high that there is zero chance it will be funded if that is what the US will have to pay for it, and you assign its total cost to one year, even though it will probably take a decade to build the thing. Another problem is that you use median household income when the bulk of tax receipts are coming from people significantly above the median (because they have more money), and there are other sources of tax receipts (eg. taxes on corporations).

    If you assign the marginal cost of any particular thing the government does to struggling families who have just barely enough money to get by, but enough to be paying taxes, that’s a good debating trick for the libertarian point of view against government spending, but it makes no more sense than the favorite leftist debating trick to compare whatever one wants to fund to the profits of the Mobil corporation and announce that there’s plenty there and they’ll hardly miss it. The relevant fact here is that $1 billion is a lot of money, but the total federal budget is over $2,000 billion, so we’re talking about less than .05% of the budget.

    I confess I have a really low tolerance level for this sort of discussion of politics and economics, especially in this kind of more specialized internet forum. There are 10,000 blogs out there where one can argue generic issues of government spending, please don’t do it here. I don’t want to participate in that kind of political discussion and I don’t want people who enjoy spending their time on that sort of thing to be doing it here.

    If you have a point specific to the HEP budget, please feel free to discuss it here, but if it’s a generic point about government spending, please take it elsewhere.

  12. SomeBody says:

    Woit: the DOE’s $12 billion price estimate for the ILC was posted here a couple of days ago:

    Sure, it’s not $12 in one year; that’s not what I said. What I do say is that those 12 billions represent the total tax take from 1+ million people over one year. As I said, it’s a way to get a feel for the reality behind those abstract numbers.

    Sure it’s a very small part of the total US budget. The same can be and is said for just about any single item in it. That’s how the thing keeps exploding. Nobody feels their “tiny” little part is a problem. It’s somebody’s else’s problem and somebody else’s money. Result: death by a thousand cuts.

    Do I have something specific to say about the HEP budget? Yes: the vast majority of people contributing to it, from the cleaning lady to the stock broker, will never benefit from it in any way, and wouldn’t feel any loss were it to go to zero. And I personally find the thought of the cleaning lady supporting people with tax-financed salaries several times higher than hers, to do something which they love and which is generally perceived as fairly high status, but which will never be of any use to her, profoundly disturbing.

    As for taxes on corporations, please remember that they are ultimately paid by their clients, i.e. individuals.

  13. Quantoken says:


    Don’t read too much into the 8% budget increase, taking away roughly 4-5% annual inflation it’s only 4%. Not to meantion the value of US dollar is set for a major collapse soon. The extra money is barely enough to pay for the electricity bill for RHIC. At 100 megawatts power consumption and if left running year around, that’s 0.8766 billion kilowatt*hour. At 12 cents cost per kilowatt*hour the electricity bill alone runs into $100 million.

    We all know that further development of accelerators of ever higher energy level is quickly running into prohibitive physical limits. If you increase the energy 10 times, the accelerator ring will increase diameter another 10 times, the technical complexity and cost of the machine goes up 10 times, and the electricity consumption goes up a 10 times as well. There is really NO physical room for such growth as accelerators are already consuming electricity of whole cities, and occupying sites of whole city big, and takes monetary contributions of many countries just to built and run. Do you think you can get the next generation accelerator built on 8% budget increase? Not a chance even if you get a quadrippling of budget.

    And if the new physics is not at TeV scale, but at a scale a few orders of magnitude yet higher (which is much more likely than not), or even close to Planck scale, then you are wasting all the money without discovering any new physics. If that happens that is the end of high energy physics research.


  14. sunderpeeche says:

    I’ll refrain from any political comments (even w/o the post from Woit). Mainly I am motivated to write because of Ponderer ~ redirect HEP funding to condensed matter physics, spintronics etc.
    (“Wouldn’t that money be better spent for condensed matter/materials physics research, including nanotechnology, optics, spintronics etc?”)

    Does it occur to anyone that the electron was discovered by JJ Thomson who was trying to understand the nature of cathode rays? Who among the general population in 1897 cared about corpuscles flying around in evacuated glass tubes? Was the electron really relevant to anyone’s lives? Have you ever seen an electron? Does it matter to you?

    Mankind has moved forward because of the persistent desire to know the unknown.

  15. SomeBody says:

    But sunderpeeche, all that was done with tabletop experiments, so that was also the scale to be expected of any (then) hypothetical applications coming out of that activity (which, besides, cost very little even by the standards of those days).

    Earlier in this thread, Woit says that “If we discover a new stable particle […] there are a lot of things you can imagine doing with it”. Really? If it takes an LHC to produce, what will be the scale of its (hypothetical) applications?

  16. sunderpeeche says:


    I guess this blog is for other people. I have to move on with my own life, a bumbling random walk though it may be. I am a fool.

  17. Chris Oakley says:

    I think that there is definitely a problem here. Being able to bring WW2 to an abrupt end boosted the stock of physicists enormously; Oppenheimer, Fermi and Feynman became like rock stars overnight. The public did not seem to have a problem with paying for the expensive toys they then wanted. As long as the brightest and best were driving the process taxpayers were able to some extent to share the excitement for the whole “ultimate question” project. The problem is that it is old hat now. Nothing really dramatic has come out of it. Bigger accelerators and more kinds of “fundamental” particle just counts as more of the same as far as Joe Public is concerned. If the project had led to wholly new things – wormholes, time travel, extra dimensions, etc. – the kind of thing that Superstring theorists like to fantasize about – then I am sure that particle physicists would not have to fight for their share of the science budget.

  18. Marty Tysanner says:

    Peter wrote,

    First thing to keep in mind is that US HEP funding is under $1 billion per year, which is less than .01% of US GDP. At this scale, HEP funding is not crowding out funding for anything else worthwhile.

    Later Somebody wrote,

    the vast majority of people contributing to it [HEP], from the cleaning lady to the stock broker, will never benefit from it in any way, and wouldn’t feel any loss were it to go to zero.

    It is really unfortunate that Somebody’s point of view holds as much sway as it does among people with a “practical” world view. It both assumes a narrow notion of “benefit” (often measured in monetary terms or direct impact on safety or lifestyle) and ignores the ennobling aspects of pursuits of knowledge or beauty for their own sake. It also ignores the fact that a large fraction of discretionary spending by individuals goes toward entertainment in its many forms (travel, camping, tobacco and alcohol, nice cars, sports, music, movies, and so on). That is, people as a whole choose to spend their money on things that often have no long term practical value to themselves, but they nonetheless feel it adds to the quality of their life.

    Governments at all levels respond to this by allocating large amounts of tax money to subsidize and promote these activities, for example through regulatory agencies, purchase and subsidies of facilities, and law enforcement specific to those activities. Without this public investment much of this simply would not happen or would be available only to the wealthier segment of society. After all, governments became involved in the first place due to a perceived need.

    One can look at HEP research spending in this light. It has little direct benefit to the general public, but it serves the many people who are curious about the inner workings of the world around them by giving them something to learn and be curious about. By uncovering new and surprising things in their wider evironment, discoveries make life more interesting to those people, and stimulate their imagination. And yes, even cleaning ladies and stockbrokers can have an imagination and be curious about the world around them, and thus can indirectly benefit from HEP research. Furthermore, many of us think that stimulating the imagination and sense of wonder in others is more ennobling than, say, indirectly promoting or subsidizing alcohol consumption.

    Beyond the ennobling and “entertainment” aspects of HEP research, there are practical benefits to society (even cleaning service people and stockbrokers) as well, but again they are indirect. Peter mentioned technological spin-offs, but I think there is an even more important form of spin-off, one that relates to the future well-being of society as a whole. New discoveries stimulate the interest and curiosity of many intelligent students and can have a significant effect on later career choice. Probably everyone reading this blog has at least heard of a smart young person who was excited by scientific discovery and the prospect of exploring the unknown, and their imagination and desire were sufficiently stoked to encourage them to pursue a scientific or engineering career. Encouraging people to enter science and engineering is very important to the future competitiveness of a country, and thus to the standard of living of future cleaning people and stockbrokers, since people in science and engineering tend to earn more and thus disproportionately increase economic activity through purchases, investment and taxes. Further, if there are not enough people advancing technology and creating high technology products, that work will be done in other countries. It is not hard to see that a country that falls significantly behind scientifically and technologically will not offer its citizens as high a standard of living (and government tax receipts will drop too, leading to more debt burden).

    Thus, HEP research, like basic scientific research in general, has an important role to play that goes well beyond direct practical benefit to the “vast majority of people contributing to it.” Here, as is often the case, benefits cannot be measured in strictly practical terms, or the practical benefits that do result from it come long after the payment has been made.

  19. secret milkshake says:

    Chris, I disagree about 2 things: 1) Oppenheimer indeed was like a rock star and there was the whole sensational mystery of the bomb that grabbed the imagination of the public. It was exciting, great adventure to become a physicist. There was GI bill that greatly boosted uni admissions and physics benefited greatly. Atomic energy was a bright future, not the nightmare. And most of the funding for big accelerators came from DOE, with hope that happy physicists will again find something that is good for bombing the enemy.
    2) Feynman was known to all the top guys from Los Alamos because of his success as a leader of the electromechanical machine computational group (that solved the questions about the implosion design) – but relatively speaking he was just teenager-looking bright man with a fresh degree from Wheeler who has not published anything. After war when he joined Bethe at Cornell, he was pretty depressed and occupied with writing the lectures and he was not producing any research for maybe 2 years. Once he put together his the path integral version of QED, his ideas were rather slow to catch on.

  20. Peter, yea I was trying a little too hard to make my first comment with my new home page actually relate to my new home page.

  21. Not a Nobel Laureate says:

    Robert Rathbun Wilson, a Wyoming cowboy who built the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator laboratory with the eye of an artist, the shrewdness of a banker and the conscience of a human rights activist

    Wilson was not only a pioneering scientist, but a powerful spokesman for science. He reached a height of eloquence in his testimony before the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy in 1969. He was asked by Rhode Island Senator John Pastore about the value of high-energy physics research in the support of national defense.

    “It has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending,” Wilson said.

    There’s no School like Old School.

  22. SomeBody says:

    Marty Tysanner, two points:

    1) I have no problem whatsoever with people choosing to spend their hard-earned money however they please. They earned it; it’s theirs to do what they want with. If the cleaning lady and stock broker really feel like you say about HEP, nothing’s keeping them from donating money to it. (At this point there is usually some smart Alec who retorts “But we will never get 12 billion for HEP by voluntary donations!”, apparently not realizing the implied condemnation of using tax revenue for HEP; remember how democracy is supposed to be by the people, for the people?)

    2) There have never been so many things to spend on in science and technology which have both the potential to excite and enthuse those footing the bill, the general public, AND to produce real benefits for them. You need only pick up a few popular science mags to read all about them. How many articles about HEP do you see in those mags? In any given month, chances are that it’s not even one. So this part of the argument is a red herring. Questioning the legitimacy of spending huge sums on HEP is not synonymous with questioning spending on science and technology at large.

  23. Haelfix says:

    I very much doubt there is anyone who can seriously point a finger at American research in high energy physics. As a fraction of population we so dominate the field its not even worth arguing about. Frankly its to the point where questions like this are more or less nonsensical. Everyone who is serious in science goes to conferences in the US, interacts with physicists working in American universities and so forth. At this stage, race/nationality/gender/whatever is a nonissue anymore, its more or less a global search, and ra ra ra patriotrism doesn’t make much sense any more (eg is this particular scientist working at Berkley or at the university of Tokyo).

    As far as I see it, we won that closed minded national race years ago, and had the foresight and intellectual integrity to make it a nonissue. Everything is now ‘open source’, and silly bickering about who is better than the other at this stage is ridiculous.

    If you go to CERN, and other leading areas of particle physics, I very much doubt you’ll find people who even think like that. That community isn’t just European, its quite distinctly global in character.

  24. Quantoken says:

    Any one interested can check out the latest status of RHIC on this link. Curiously they just had some sort of BTA power supply problem, at 1:00 am Feb 5th, 2006. Any one knows what exactly does that mean? Is BTA the main power?

    The RHIC accelerates completely ionized gold nuclear. I am wondering how they cheated on the energy. For example when you accelerate the nuclear to 1TeV, let say, since the nuclear is composed of many protons and neutrons, and when collision happens it’s just invidual protons and neutrons hitting each other. So the effective energy of collision is actually much lower that the beam energy, since the energy of individual protons and neutrons is much lower than the collective energy of the whole nuclear. Any explanation?


  25. nuclearPancakes says:

    To answer Quantoken’s question:

    The meaningful parameter for energy in heavy ion collisions is \sqrt{s_{NN}} not \sqrt{s}. All results from the RHIC projects are reported as such, no “cheating” neccesary…


  26. J.F. Moore says:

    Q: BtA is the Booster-to-AGS transfer line. AGS is the older Alternating Gradient Synchrotron which is now incorporated in the RHIC complex. In short, it is a very small part of the system, but like most accelerators every small part has to work to do an experiment.

  27. Ponderer of Things says:

    just to point out – if it was up to me, I would half the military R&D budget and put the gained money into fundamental and applied sciences, including HEP.
    But from the point of view of taxpayer I don’t see a very compelling argument to continue supporting huge accelerators like ILC. I agree that there has been some “trickle-down” benefits, like synchrotron sources, but overall I am hard-pressed to point to some direct practical benefits of high energy physics from the past 30-40 years or so. I can see the type of arguments other areas of experimental physics will be making to improve their own funding situation, but not so much for HEP. Cancellation of SuperCollider project was the beginning of the trend, and if I had to guess, ILC is doomed as well – and the rest of the world will probably not support it if US bails out.

  28. woit says:


    You didn’t quote the full text of the estimate for the ILC cost, it mentioned that the assumption was that only half would come from the host country. As far as I know, the ILC design effort still is not at the point of coming up with a final number for the total cost. One of the main goals of the design effort is to figure out how to do this as cheaply as possible. The people involved are well aware of the SSC fiasco. My guess is that $12 billion is an upper bound. The final cost estimate may be significantly below that, and if it is much above that the project will not be taken seriously. Half of that ($6 billion) I think is a good estimate of the upper limits of what the federal government might consider funding. If spread over ten years, that is $600 million/year, a large fraction of the current spending of over $800 million/year. So the ILC cost can’t be accomodated within the current budget unless one shuts down almost all HEP labs and research for the duration. However, it could be accomodated within a not inconceivably large budget increase (there was this guy on TV recently going on about doubling the budget for physics research…)

    As for arguments about how the average person wouldn’t want their tax dollars used for this kind of thing, how about letting them speak for themselves? This is a democracy, which (if it were functional, but that’s way off-topic…) works by letting people choose representatives who reflect their views to make this kind of choice for them. The HEP budget is debated by Congress each year, any ILC proposal will be exhaustively examined and debated, including all these issues of whether there will be any practical benefits, how people feel about spending these sums on what may be pure knowledge, and whether the money would be better spent on other forms of scientific research. Opinions held by people on these issues are all over the map, and don’t divide nicely according to the standard partisan divisions.

  29. SomeBody says:


    What difference does it make if half the taxpayers contributing to the thing are not in the US? We are still talking the equivalent of 1+ million people working for a year to finance it (actually more the less of the funding is from the US, since median income is lower in almost all other countries).

    I agree completely with you that those footing the bill should be allowed to speak for themselves. We all know how that is done: by letting them spend their own money as they see fit (e.g. by donating it to a church, a charity, cancer research, the NSF or whatever they see fit) instead of handing it over to politicians.

    You are an intelligent man, so you know perfectly well that the electorate’s opinions about the value of HEP will never be properly represented by Congress or other elected body. It’s just too small an issue to even be brought up in a campaign, other than possibly in special-interest constituencies which may hope to get a site (which, as usual, means that there are special interests lobbying FOR spending on this or that project, while nobody has a comparable interest in lobbying against it).

    Letting elected politicians make the decisions in such a matter is therefore not an example of representative democracy; it’s an example of chance & special interests at work.

  30. woit says:


    Sorry, from your rhetoric I think we fundamentally disagree about the proper role of government and how representative democracy should work Further discussion though would just lead to the kind of pointless back and forth about this that I think is a complete waste of time and that I don’t want on this site.

    So, I’ll invoke my undemocratic, totalitarian powers here and announce I’m deleting any further discussion along these lines.

  31. plank says:

    “Feynman was known to all the top guys from Los Alamos because of his success as a leader of the electromechanical machine computational group (that solved the questions about the implosion design)”

    I don’t think this is correct. To my knowledge Feyman’s group did solve a problem related to the implosion design but it turned out the problem was “unphysical” and thus the solution irrelevant.

    Am I wrong?

  32. anon says:

    plank, Feynman says in one of his books that he was transferred to the IBM punched card sorters, becauses the guy in charge of that department was fired by Oppenheimer for wasting time. says: ‘Feynman worked out a technique to run several calculations in parallel on the punched-card machines that reduced the time required.’

  33. Dear Woit,

    I am spending some percentage of my time working at an improvement of the Level 1 trigger for the CMS experiment. My problem is that
    1. I don’t believe SLHC has any reason to exist, and
    2. I don’t believe it will, either.

    Your job as theorists is to keep us motivated. I don’t feel much so. Please help me: convince me that
    1. LHC will find some hints that there is anything more than SM+higgs out there (ok, it will see the Higgs, so what ?)
    2) LHC findings will prove that one needs to run at a x10 luminosity for a few more years, with the same projectiles and CM energy.
    Would you ?


  34. Chris Oakley says:

    Hi Tommaso,

    I apologise for the unsolicited reply, but personally I do not think that LHC or any other experiment will see the Higgs, because they probably do not exist – I say this on the basis that scientific explanations invoked out of desperation tend not to be the correct ones.
    Keeping you motivated is not part of my responsibility as my presence was not required in the theoretical physics community 20-odd years ago, but, look on the bright side: what you are doing may have an application outside of physics. Who knows – you may even end up with an industrial process named after you.

  35. sunderpeeche says:

    Many accelerators which have become famous did so for reasons totally unconnected with the motivation for building them. The Bevatron at Berkeley was built to produce the antiproton (which did garner a Nobel Prize), but it really became famous for Alvarez’s work with the 72″ bubble chamber (discovery of several resonances). SPEAR at SLAC was built as an e+e- collider (the linac could only do fixed target expts) but nobody realized SPEAR would produce the psi (charmomium) and the tau lepton. The AGS at BNL was built to demonstrate strong-focussing (and push proton synchrotrons to higher energy). But nobody guessed it would produce 3 NP-winning expts (i) muon neutrino was not same as electron neutrino, (ii) CP violation (iii) J particle (J/psi with SPEAR).

    Machines that were built to find the top quark (PEP, PETRA, TRISTAN) did not find it (though PETRA demonstrated gluons via 3-jet events).

    Nobody knows for sure what LHC will find.

  36. woit says:

    Hi Tommaso,

    Probably the best advice is to not pay much attention to theorists, but, given that, here’s the opinion of one theorist:

    1. Supersymmetry, in the commonly studied form, is quite unlikely to exist. I doubt that there is such a thing as a superpartner for each particle with opposite statistics. I’ve always worried that LHC experimentalists will focus too much of their effort on this possibility, especially in designing the triggers. I’m curious to hear how much specific models like supersymmetry influence the trigger design.

    2. I’m also rather dubious about any of the well-known extra dimensional models. They’re not mathematically elegant, don’t convincingly solve any problems of the standard model, and even if they are the way the world works, there’s no good reason for their effects to be visible at the LHC, but not the Tevatron (i.e., no reason for the relevant energy scale to be in that range).

    1. and 2. are pretty negative, but there is a strong positive case that something new and exciting will show up at the LHC which isn’t visible at the Tevatron. You’ll finally be getting to the energy scale where direct study of electroweak symmetry breaking begins to be possible. The fact of the matter is that there is no good theory of electroweak symmetry breaking, so in a sense this is the best possible situation for an experimentalist: you know you’ll be in an unexplored energy regime where something new and important has to happen, but the theorists don’t really have a good idea about it. For thirty years, experimentalists have been behind the theorists because the standard model at energies below the electroweak breaking scale is just too ridiculously good. Going from the Tevatron to the LHC, there is a serious chance that this situation will completely reverse itself.

    More cautiously, there is a danger that at LHC energies all that will be visible will be a scalar standard model Higgs, with the interesting dynamics of electroweak symmetry breaking only visible at higher energies. That’s the possible downside, and it’s real, but I actually think the chances of seeing something unexpected are less than the chances of this.

    My own best guess is that electroweak symmetry breaking is due to something theorists don’t understand at all yet, maybe physics coming from a gauge anomaly, or even a new kind of mixing of space-time and internal degrees of freedom different than ones studied so far. If so, LHC experimentalists may be in for a very exciting and very confusing time.

    As for follow-ons to the LHC, it seems like you’ll have to wait until the LHC has run for a few years before being able to make a sensible decision. I don’t know at all what the relative costs are, but if an energy doubling is possible, that seems more likely to turn up something new. The LHC energy may be just around all sorts of interesting thresholds, and getting above them might be much more important than more luminosity.

  37. Quantoken says:


    Doubling beam energy would require either doubling the strength of the magnetic fields of the powerful superconductive magnets from 8.33 Tesla to 16.66 Tesla, or dig a new tunnel of double the diameter of the current LHC, and therefore also double the number of the magnet used along the circumference. The first is technically un-achieveable currently and the second one is also prohibitive in cost.

    On the other hand, increasing luminosity involves just trying to squeeze the cross-section of the beam to smaller size at point of collision. But it’s easily said than done. It takes years of patient fine tuning of numerious instrument parts to just get it right to achieve the luminosity at design level.


  38. Thanks for your answers here to the various contributors… A few points:
    1) I am quite happy to agree with most if not all of what you (woit) say about the new physics the LHC will probably be able to explore.
    2) the SLHC needs to be funded and a strong physics case be made well beforehand, which means possibly now or in the next couple of years – thus dramatically without any real knowledge of whether the LHC will work at all.
    3) going to more energy is unfeasible – I agree – but going to 10^35 is most probably just a matter of time and patience, no huge upgrades being necessary. That a x10 lumi does not buy as much as a x2 energy I totally concur.


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