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A once-controversial approach to particle physics has entered the mainstream at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC’s major ATLAS experiment has officially thrown its weight behind the method — an alternative way to hunt through the reams of data created by the machine — as the collider’s best hope for detecting behaviour that goes beyond the standard model of particle physics. Conventional techniques have so far come up empty-handed.

So far, almost all studies at the LHC — at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland — have involved ‘targeted searches’ for signatures of favoured theories. The ATLAS collaboration now describes its first all-out ‘general’ search of the detector’s data, in a preprint posted on the arXiv server1 last month and submitted to European Physics Journal C. Another major LHC experiment, CMS, is working on a similar project.

“My goal is to try to come up with a really new way to look for new physics” — one driven by the data rather than by theory, says Sascha Caron of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, who has led the push for the approach at ATLAS. General searches are to the targeted ones what spell checking an entire text is to searching that text for a particular word. These broad searches could realize their full potential in the near future, when combined with increasingly sophisticated artificial-intelligence (AI) methods.

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Category: Science