Large Hadron Collider Physics Conference

While I was away last week Columbia was hosting the Large Hadron Collider Physics (LHCP) conference here on campus. Talks are available here. Matt Strassler posts about some of the new Higgs results, which basically see some of the inconsistencies in Higgs mass measurements disappearing. Right now everything is quite consistent with a pure Standard Model Higgs.

In the final plenary session, the theory talk from John Ellis ended by claiming the LHC results as a success for SUSY (the “success” is that simple classes of SUSY models said the Higgs couldn’t be too heavy, also that the Higgs couplings should be much like those of the SM, so any SM success is a SUSY success). Another argument was that “SUSY is increasingly the best solution [of the hierarchy problem] that we have” (here he was following Nathaniel Craig’s summary talk), illustrated by two discouraged soldiers under bombardment in a foxhole, one saying to the other “Well, if you knows of a better ‘hole go to it!”. It’s interesting to note that the arguments from Ellis work just as well if SUSY is not found at Run 2, a likely possibility he’s getting ready for.

The conference included a Friday afternoon panel discussion that you can watch here. This began with an excellent presentation from Fabianola Gianotti about the possibilities for next-generation colliders. The discussion moderated by Dennis Overbye of the New York Times focused to some extent on the budgetary challenges facing US HEP, with Steve Ritz, the chair of the P5 panel, commenting on the tough situation reflected in that panel’s recent report. Many speakers expressed frustration over the US budget level for HEP and what to do about it. Enlist the public? Do a better job of convincing Congress? Get billionaires to help fund HEP? Get billionaires to fund a Super PAC that would buy us a Congress with a better attitude?

Most of the discussion was about the experimental side, but Arkani-Hamed also had comments about the theory side, noting that the job market for theorists, which improved after his grad school days in the mid-90s, has now worsened and gone back to that level. He also noted that successful young theorists are increasingly ending up in faculty jobs outside the US after starting their careers as students and postdocs here.

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7 Responses to Large Hadron Collider Physics Conference

  1. Manny says:

    “He [Arkani-Hamed] also noted that increasingly successful young theorists are ending up in faculty jobs outside the US after starting their careers as students and postdocs here.”

    Was the point that other countries are successfully luring away American-trained talent? or that even these successful young theorists can’t find positions here and must leave the US for jobs?

  2. paddy says:

    Manny: It is for you to make of Arkani-Hamed’s statement what you will.

  3. Peter Woit says:

    You can find some heated argument about this in the comment section here:

    That some of the best young Princeton-trained string theorists are ending up with jobs outside the US is what I think Arkani-Hamed is referring to. I described this situation provocatively as US physics departments not buying what Princeton is selling. I think an accurate description of the situation is that the people in question could get jobs in the US, but are offered better ones outside the US. One can argue about why that is.

  4. Curious Mayhem says:

    It’s combination of things. But what Arkani-Hamed is referring to specifically is that US physics departments stopped their hot pursuit of string/M-theory/multiverse hiring around 2007. Possibly not coincidentally, this happened about a year after Peter and Lee Smolin’s books about the folly of string theory appeared.

    There was a general recession in hiring from 2008 to 2011. Since 2011, hiring has picked up modestly, but, so far, no sign that the bubble in pseudo-physics hiring has been reflated. Perhaps the Federal Reserve will step in and do some hiring in this area, along with buying up some securitized student debt, to cover up that crisis.

    (I’m partly being facetious with the last comment, although not completely. But Wall Street’s mass hiring of physics theory students has also stopped, after reaching its peak in the early 2000s.)

  5. Peter Woit says:

    I just noticed an interesting profile at Physics Today of theorists Brian Wecht and Ben Lillie and their “Story Collider” project, see here

    On the hiring issue, Wecht, an American ex-IAS postdoc in string theory/formal theory, now has a faculty position in London, and comments:

    “I moved to London a bit more than a year ago for a permanent job at Queen Mary [University of London]. It was such a relief to get it. I was a postdoc for eight years—which is increasingly typical for someone in my field. London is amazing, not only because it’s a great city, but also because it’s the only place in the world that’s hiring people in my field these days.”

  6. Mesa says:

    Great presentation by Ms. Gianotti.

    Wall Street used to hire physicists for a good balance of theoretical and practical knowledge to model market phenomenon. I suspect that the reduction in hiring recently is due to some of the move in theory towards unverifiable esoterica, but also the rise of the big data comp sci guys as well.

  7. Slynx says:

    As a young scientist it seems to me like it would be overall productive and beneficial to the STEM ecosystem if some of the postdocs and grads went on to industry and government rather than academia or big data jobs and represented scientists everywhere. The people at eg Goldman Sachs do this quite effectively.

    I’ve read articles in science and nature going back twenty years that talk about giving the students real career prospects but I don’t yet really see how this is built into the academic business model in a constructive way. Appreciate it’s a hard problem.

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