Thursday, 8 August 2013

Unclear Physics

It says here that doubt is being cast on the Supersymmetry hypothesis, which is supposed to fill the gaps in the Standard Model of particle physics.    Just in case you’d forgotten, the Standard Model is meant to explain how the Universe came to exist, and why it continues to do so despite all indications to the contrary.  The discovery of the Higgs boson last year was hailed as near-proof that the theory was on the right track.
But there are indeed a couple of gaps in this Standard Model, which Supersymmetry might be able to fill.  First, it only explains 4% of the matter and energy we actually see and feel, and consist of  – the other 96% is unexplained and undetectable, and so classed by physicists, with an honest if despairing frankness, as ‘dark’.  Bit of a shortfall, you might think.
The other slight shortcoming is Gravity.  You know, that stuff that glues you to the ground, defines ‘up’ and ‘down’, and incidentally makes the earth revolve around the sun, the sun hold its place in the galaxy, and the galaxy adhere to the rest of the universe.  You have to wonder how the theorists missed that one, don’t you? 
But that’s not the point.  Supersymmetry theory (and I have to confess that the details start to* elude me at this point), if proven, would fill these gaps.  Problem is, theories need to be verified by evidence, and so far the Large Hadron Collider** has abjectly failed to detect the anti-particles that would do the job.  So experimenters are bouncing the issue back into the theorists’ side of the court: perhaps the theory is yet another blind alley, like phlogiston and the steady-state universe and the green-cheese moon.  The theorists respond that it’s your experiments that aren’t good enough: you’ll have to build a Larger Collider, or make this one Collide a bit quicker, or just keep trying.  And so it goes on. 
Physicists seem to be up there with economists in their propensity to complain about the perverse failure of the real world to do as they tell it.  Does it matter?  Well, that question was probably asked when they came up with quantum mechanics, and many might have answered ‘no’.  But then we wouldn’t have had transistors and their offshoots, and you wouldn’t be reading this.  (So maybe ‘no’ was right…)

Meanwhile, what I want to know is: what is ‘electric charge’?  Nobody seems to know.


*If you believe those two words, then I can get away with pretty much anything…

** What happens to all those Small and Medium-sized Hadrons, I used to wonder, until someone put me right.


  1. An electric charge is about 30 quid a month Tim. I hope this helps.

  2. Darling, you lost me by the end of the first sentence. Well, by the comma. I'm so sorry to be dim.

  3. What did happen to small and medium?

  4. Quantum mutatus? (Just askin')
    Mig, you're right, they should've called it the Medium Hadron Collider, would have left scope for expansion. The next one will have to be the Ginormous Hadron Collider.