Things like protons, neutrons, and pions laid claim to the term subatomic particle before quarks were discovered. But yeah, I was also stunned until I realized they were probably all hadrons, which makes it impressive but not quite so physics-redefining.
Didn’t the “discovery” of the Higgs boson require lots of people to spend lots of time poring over lots of data before they finally came to the conclusion that, yes, they had found something?
It’s not entirely clear from the press release, but it seems that the timing is largely coincidental and that these “discoveries” are based on data collected several years ago. It seems very unlikely that they could casually hit a button and find a particle.
Yep, it always does.
They went to Staples.
Yep, all modern particle physics is like modern astronomy. We don’t actually “see” stuff anymore. We find statistically significant anomalies in huge data sets then triangulate from other lines of evidence to hypothesize what that anomaly probably is. It’s all very much less glamorous than people imagine big scientific discoveries are. They knew what the Higgs should look like in the data because the math predicted it, but it still took a while to find the numbers and confirm it wasn’t noise.
The deeper into the universe we get, the worse the signal-to-noise ratio gets in our observations, so all science of the very big and very small is about teasing tiny signals out of huge dumps of noise. This has to be done very rigorously to make sure the effect being seen is real.
I think you’re right. It’s not like they can turn the machine on and there’s a photo of three new quarks or whatever.
Here I am stuck using anti-backpack gravity.
I think a lot of subatomic physics involves theory that can’t be verified without pouring ever-increasing amounts of energy into experiments. Some theoretical physicist does the math and figures out that there is going to be a undiscovered particle with a certain mass and other properties, then some engineers build an even more sensitive detector, then maybe a 50-ton magnet gets shipped from Long Island to Illinois, then they run the machine for a year and a half, then they crunch the data for 10 years.
It’s super interesting to me, but it does seem like a strange way to do science.
That is absolutely true for particle physics, yah. The harder and harder to find particles have shorter and shorter lifespans and need higher and higher energy interactions to be detectable. Hence we keep building larger and larger colliders. There are already plans in the works for bigger colliders in both China and Europe. LHC is awesome, but we already need a bigger one. Get a few beers into a physicist and they’ll tell you that LHC was more or less built just to detect Higgs. That’s how important confirming that particle was to the field. Now, of course, LHC will do many great things in research, as have all the older and smaller colliders. But the real frontier is at the high energy end.
I would liken it to telescopes. We keep having to build bigger ones to see deeper into space. Colliders are the telescopes of particle physics. To see deeper and deeper into the fabric of the universe we need bigger and bigger colliders.
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