European Strategy Group Meeting

CERN has a new version of the European Strategy Group (last convened in 2005/6), tasked with updating medium to long-term plans for future accelerators and particle physics in general. This week they’re running an Open Symposium (live webcast here), with presentations covering a wide array of topics from the state of speculative ideas about BSM physics to possible new accelerator technologies.

While the presentations themselves often focus on the really interesting question of how to learn more about the Higgs and electroweak symmetry breaking, media articles based on reporting from the conference have started to appear, often featuring the usual nonsense. See for example this piece, from the Sunday Times, which tells us that:

Such a machine might help resolve some of the questions raised by Albert Einstein, who could not reconcile the forces operating at the level of atoms with the force of gravity, which governs the movement of stars and planets.

which then gets picked up by the Daily Mail and turned into a story about how CERN reveals plans for new experiments measuring 50 miles in length to solve the mystery of how gravity works, which explains:

The collider will be used to solve a new batch of mysteries of the universe, such as how gravity interacts on a molecular level.

Maybe the European Strategy Group could as part of its deliberations develop a strategy for stopping physicists from going to the press with nonsense about quantum gravity….

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21 Responses to European Strategy Group Meeting

  1. Bee says:

    Interesting that one needs a 50 mile collider to study the behavior of molecules.

  2. fuzzy says:

    I note that the Chair of SPC is a respected theorist. I see from INSPIRE that he obtained a lot of results on supersymmetry, supergravity, strings and such. I am not sure we can call this physics, but I guess that if he is the Chair, many people will be lead to consider extra dimensions, supersymmetry, etc, as part of high energy physics. So I am not surprised that a journalist will not express a critical view about that, rather, he reflects the views of the community.

  3. Peter Woit says:


    That’s pretty funny, hadn’t seen it.

  4. Hamish says:

    Bee, a few generations ago one would be forgiven for asking why a large circular accelerator would be needed to study molecules — now we build them just for that purpose! Big toys arn’t just for particle physicists anymore!

  5. paddy says:

    I shan’t say anything about the provincialism implied by the name “European Strategy Group Meeting”. Oops..I did.

  6. Bobito says:

    Whatever the merits of a particular kind of science, the last thing any of us needs is some “European Strategy Group” stopping it from being published.

  7. Jeff Moreland says:

    Paddy & Bobito,
    All 20 member states of CERN are European, and virtually all the people they employ and the money they spend is European. I don’t think they are trying to control or censor the rest of the world!

  8. epp2010 says:

    Does anybody remember the EPP2010 report from a few years ago? (Jonathan Bagger chairman.) PW probably has a post about it smoewhere. (More than one?) The official purpose was to set a strategy for the USHEP experimental program for the next decade (or more). The whole report, when it came out, was explicitly to “restore US leadership in particle physics”. Provincialism? The report was so outrageous it caused a public outcry, even within the US. It was promptly hushed up.

  9. Claude Leblanc says:


    the slides are now online. Did you have a look at the ones by Alvarez-Gaumé or the ones of the last section, which summarize the various working groups? This must have been one of the most unproductive strategy meeting in the last 100 years. The theory strategy is particularly disappointing. Basically, they say: “we have no clue what to do, we need more young people to join us”.

    I have often experienced how managers who did not know what to do changed the situation: they organized a strategy workshop, structured it well, asked the right questions in the right sequence, and then forged a coherent strategy supported by everyone. But this meeting obviously failed completely.

    The theory people have not yet digested the failure of supersymmetry. Instead of looking for alternatives in a systematic manner, they still seem to be depressed. After the leadership they provided for decades, when they successfully induced experimentalists to build the LEP, the Tevatron, the LHC, they are now lost. The main statement is: let’s wait for the LHC 2013-14 results. Wow. What a great strategy!

    What we need here, above all, is a theory strategy. A theory strategy were theorists sit down, evaluate all possible options, and then explore the most promising ones. Instead, the last slide of the theorists says: “The TH community is useful and healthy, we should keep it that way” Given that it is a community of thousands of well-educated and well-funded researchers but that this community did not produce almost any correct idea in the last 40 years, there is some humor in the statement.

    “Useful and healthy”? No, it’s “useless and depressed.”

  10. M says:

    From a mathematical point of view High Energy Physics is a ordered field. There is only one direction: towards higher energy.
    So these strategy groups mostly have a political purpose

  11. Bobito says:

    @Jeff: I don’t think you caught the sense of my comment. In any case, I live and work in one of the 20 member states.

  12. leadersheep says:

    “After the leadership they provided for decades, when they successfully induced experimentalists to build the LEP, the Tevatron, the LHC, they are now lost.”

    The HEP expt side will doubtless offer a very different point of view about this. In the 1950-60s the accelerators were producing copious new physics, all of which cried out for an explanation. It was the plentiful and unexplained data which drove the theoretical innovation. Many of the new particles being discovered fitted into patterns (mesons and baryons, octets and decuplets), the theorists came up with SU(3) and the Eight-fold way, and later with quarks. (The peculiar decay of the phi meson? It led Zweig to his model of aces.) At the same time there was data on the weak interactions. This led to ideas of weak neutral currents. And of course to W and Z bosons. And also of symmetry breaking. The absence of flavor-changing neutral currents led to a suggestion of charm. And CP violation was totally unexpected.

    “… successfully induced experimentalists to build the LEP, the Tevatron, the LHC, they are now lost.” All of these machines (and others SPEAR, CESR, DORIS, PEP, PETRA, TRISTAN, VEPP-2, VEPP-4, SPS, ADONE … others … HERA?) were all e+e- colliders or hadron colliders/fixed target rings, all pushing the energy frontier in their own way (or serving as spectroscopes for quarkonium resonances).

    But since the Standard Model was put together circa 1974-75, all new particles which have been found have all fitted into the SM (b-quark, top quark, Higgs). For forty years or so, particle accelerators have NOT produced copious new particles which lack a new theoretical explanation = BSM physics. The new frontier seems to be dark matter and dark energy, and there is no clear way how to detect or quantify that.

    “The theory people have not yet digested the failure of supersymmetry. Instead of looking for alternatives in a systematic manner …” How would the HEP theorists propose to modify the design of the ILC/muon collider/super-B/super-LHC/you name it/ to look for alternatives in a systematic manner? All of LEP, Tevatron, LHC, etc were all e+e- or hadron colliders. The HEP theory community did not provide any technical ideas for new accelerator technology.

    There simply has to be new data = new particles, or new symmtery violations (super-CP-violation, whatever that might mean…). For example, perhaps the Higgs does not decay as expected and the branching ratios disagree significantly with SM predictions. Or it decays via some channel which should be forbidden. New resonances appear = “bump hunting” of the 1950s, which do not fit the SM. Then all of that will give the HEP theorists something concrete to work on, to suggest hypotheses to test at proposed new machines. But the new machnes will almost certainly still be e+e- or mu+mu- or hadron colliders.

  13. Claude Leblanc says:

    To leadersheep

    It might well be that you are right, and theoreticians have not provided any leadership at all.

    But then the situation is even worse now. Because there is no reason at all for a larger machine; as long as there is no effect beyond the standard model, there is no reason to build a larger machine.

    Maybe one has to harsher and say that nobody knows what to do. A really bad situation in a time where there are more particle physicists than at any previous time in history. So many smart men, and still they have no clue…

  14. leadersheep says:

    What leadership could the HEP theory community offer? Let’s consider LEP. It is widely acknowledged that LEP was extremely successful. But LEP produced no BSM physics. What leadership or guidance could the HEP theorists offer to do things differently? LEP was an e+e- collider (lepton). LHC is a pp collider (hadron) in the same tunnel. What else to do? Maybe p-pbar. Is that really an innovative way to search for alternatives to supersymmetry?

    After the b quark was discovered at Fermilab in 1977 (in a fixed target expt, not the Tevatron, which was not operational in 1977), that is to say, after the discovered Upsilon particle was realized to be a bound state of a new species of quark with charge -1/3, then the theorists immediately said there is a partner t-quark, with a charge of +2/3. So there was a theoretical impetus to build machines to find the t quark. PEP, PETRA and TRISTAN were all built to find the top quark, and they all failed to do so. Was it wise to build them? PETRA discovered gluons via 3-jet events, also PETRA observed QCD deviations from Bjorken scaling, one of the earliest validations of QCD. But that is not why PETRA was built. Since the beginning of QM, the theorists have never had any good idea at what ebergy scale the next “new physics” will appear. Most “new physics” has been a surprise.

    One can always stop building machines because the theorists have no ideas for what comes next (BSM n the case of HEP). By that logic Kammerlingh Onnes should not have measured electrical resistance at liquid He temperatures. Kammerlingh Onnes was actually trying to verify Ohm’s law at low temperatures. That’s as boring as boring can be. Which theorist would propose building a cryostat to do that? Would you jump at the opportunity to do a PhD thesis to validate Ohm’s Law to (almost) absolute zero?

  15. no clue says:

    “Maybe one has to harsher and say that nobody knows what to do. … So many smart men, and still they have no clue…”

    I suppose Helen Quinn and/or Lisa Randall might object to that, but never mind. When Dirac discovered the Dirac equation, he had no clue about antimatter. Carl Anderson discovered the positron completely independently of Dirac. When Yukawa proposed the meson (U particle) and a particle of the approximate mass was found by Anderson and Nedermeyer, nobody recognized it as a lepton not a meson. After WW2, cosmic ray expts produced strange V particles. Accelerators could produce such particles more copiously and reliably, and that was a big reason to build accelerators after WW2. But nobody expected the huge number of resonances which appeared. When the AGS strong focusing proton synchrotron was built in 1960, there was no theorist who said it would discover CP violation. Nor did anyone say the AGS would produce the J half of the J/psi. Indeed in 1960 no one even spoke of quarks. The AGS and the CERN PS were built because the strong focusing principle was a new idea which allowed accelerators to reach much higher energies, and yet have a reasonable size. But in all cases, there was plenty of unexplained physics lying around, and good reasons to build accelerators of higher energy.

    Most of the famous accelerators became famous for discovering physics completely different from the reasons why they were proposed. Bevatron, SPEAR, AGS … The SPS at CERN was built as a fixed target synchrotron. It was never intended to operate as a p-bar collider. No HEP theorist said that one should build a p-pbar collider. Carlo Rubbia said that (actually, to convert an existing fixed target proton synchrotron into a p-pbar collider).

  16. Peter Woit says:


    I did write about EPP2010, see for instance
    where I wrote

    “The committee did a very good job of recognizing the difficult situation of US HEP, and coming up with a plausible strategy for how to make the best of it. I have my doubts about whether it’s really a good idea to sell this as “Revealing the Hidden Nature of Space and Time”, since it’s not especially likely that that is what is going to happen. There’s no particularly good reason to believe that extra dimensions will show up at the LHC or ILC energy scales, so over-selling this is dangerous.”

    In retrospect, I think emphasizing the ILC was a mistake. One of the main arguments for the ILC was always “we think the LHC may see lots of superpartners below 1 TeV, the ILC would be then the best way to study them, so we should have a design ready to go when LHC results come in”. The problem is that the superpartners were always very unlikely, so even back then you knew that the most likely situation you would be in once LHC results came in was the one we’re in now: no BSM physics at ILC scales. The ILC thus shouldn’t have played such a prominent role in the EPP2010 proposals. Other than that though, US HEP then (and now) is in a difficult situation, with no obvious great options, and I think those working on this played as well as they could the bad hand they were dealt by nature and fiscal reality.

    Claude Leblanc,

    I did look at the slides. It’s not surprising that Alvarez-Gaume thought this was not the time or place to admit failures, but tried to make the case for future support. I note that the words “string theory” don’t appear in his slides: the decision seemed to be that it was best to not bring that up in this venue. I hope the theory community is finally getting around to thinking through the implications of the failure of string theory unification (which has been clear for a long time), as well as the failure of SUSY extensions of the SM (which is becoming definitive as LHC results come in). Any useful debates about this though are likely to take place just among theorists, not when they’re facing the outside world to ask for future financial support.

  17. chris says:

    well, let’s face it: classical, accelerator based particle physics is coming to an end. the LHC will be productive for at least another decade after which some next gen collider will clean up the few remaining pieces and that will be about it.

    time for theorists to reorient themselves or concentrate on teaching if they prefer that.

  18. David Nataf says:


    What is the basis for your claim that accelerator physics is over?

    It’s not even clear that the Higgs cross sections match SM-predictions.

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  20. fuzzy says:

    Hi David, just wanted to try to formulate my reaction to your question in words. I think that if it some brilliant theorist had predicted a big deviation of the Higgs branching ratio into 2 photons, the experimental hint to which you allude could have been interesting. Now as now, if we want to act as scientists, we should just say that the search conducted using the standard model as a guide was successful. Of course all of us is interested to see the next data, but I would dare to say that extra dimensions, quantum gravity, Lorentz violation etc, seem to be more in the pages of Nature, than in the Nature.

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