As a physicist working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is “When are you going to find something?” Resisting the temptation to sarcastically reply “Aside from the Higgs boson, which won the Nobel Prize, and a whole slew of new composite particles?” I realize that the reason the question is posed so frequently is down to how we have depicted progress in particle physics to the wider world.
We often talk about progress in terms of discovering new particles, and this is frequently true. Studying a new, very heavy particle helps us see underlying physical processes – often without annoying background noise. That makes it easy to explain the value of the discovery to the general public and politicians.
Recently, however, a series of precise measurements of ordinary already known, standard particles and processes have threatened to shake up physics. And with the LHC getting ready to run at higher energy and intensity than ever before, it is time to start discussing the implications widely.
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