There’s an article in this week’s Science magazine by Adrian Cho entitled Dreams Collide With Reality for International Experiment. It’s about DOE Undersecretary Orbach’s warning to HEPAP (mentioned here) that current plans were too optimistic about the time-scale for the ILC, leaving a potentially dangerously long period with few US HEP experiments in progress.
Some physicists who had proposals for experiments (BTeV and RSVP) that were canceled in favor of going ahead full steam with the ILC were not amused:
Meanwhile, Orbach’s call for a program of smaller projects evoked jeers from researchers whose experiments had been cut. “This is really stupid and very frustrating because we had a program,” says Sheldon Stone, a physicist at Syracuse University in New York who worked on an experiment called BTeV that would have run at the Tevatron collider at Fermilab.
While experimentalists are worrying about the short-term, string theorists seem to be taking the long view. In his talk on String Theory: Progress and Problems at the recent conference celebrating the centennial of Yukawa and Tomonaga, John Schwarz ends with the conclusion
Even if progress continues to be made at the current rapid pace, I do not expect the subject to be completely understood by the time of the Yukawa-Tomonaga bicentennial.
I don’t find his claims about a current rapid pace of progress very convincing, and the idea of the entire next century of theoretical particle physics being dominated by the kind of unsuccessful more and more complicated string theory constructions we’ve seen for the last 25 years doesn’t seem like something to look forward to.
Turning from the difficulties of the future, Howard Georgi gave a wonderful talk on The Future of Grand Unification at the same conference, which was actually mainly about the past, largely devoted to telling the story of how he and Glashow came up with the first GUT models. He emphasizes the kinds of manipulations of representations of Lie algebras that he and Glashow were masters of and used to construct many different kinds of models. There’s also an advertisement for his wonderful book on the subject, the text for his course where I first many years ago encountered this subject. This semester I’m teaching my own course on the same material, from a rather different point of view, emphasizing geometry. It remains one of the most beautiful and central parts of modern mathematics as well as physics.