Never mind the Higgs, where’s the Supersymmetry?
There’s been a big conference on High Energy Physics going on in Grenoble since last Thursday, which I’ve been following a little bit via Tweets from various participants and links to blog articles contained therein. The media seem to be almost exclusively focussed on the Higgs boson but, as is made clear in a Guardian blog article by John Butterworth, the situation is that the latest data from the Large Hadron Collider do not provide clear evidence for it yet. Strangely, though, the Guardian ran another piece at the weekend claiming that “CERN scientists suspect a glimpse of the Higgs”, which appears to have been based on a blog article which offers various possible interpretations of a set of measurements which lie at the margin of statistical significance. It must be very frustrating not having a clear detection, but this strikes me as clutching at straws. Far better to wait for more data before speculating in public. Nobody really expected to see the Higgs so soon, so it’s surely better to wait for more data rather than over-interpreting what’s there. Let’s put it down to overenthusiasm.
However the real point of the latest news is not in my view the lack of, or marginal nature of, evidence for the Higgs Boson. It’s the extremely strong limits that have been placed on supersymmetry. This is of particular (geddit?) interest to me as a cosmologist because supersymmetric theories provide us with plausible candidates for the non-baryonic dark matter we think pervades the Universe. The possibilities include fermionic counterparts of the bosons that mediate the standard model interactions. The photon, for example, which is a boson, mediates the electromagnetic interaction between charged particles; in SUSY theories it would have a fermionic partner called a photino. There would also be the Higgsino (assuming there is a Higgs!), gluino, gravitino and so on. Supersymmetry is a beautiful idea and many theorists love it to bits, but there isn’t a shred of evidence that has anything to do with the way nature is.
The search for supersymmetry is thus more directly relevant to my work than the Higgs, in fact, but the Large Hadron Collider was largely “sold” to politicians and the public in terms of the quest for the Higgs. That’s the MacGuffin, as Alfred Hitchcock would have said. Actually the LHC will do many other things, but I guess it’s easier to make the case for funding to government if you have one Big Idea rather than lots of smaller ones.
Anyway, a piece from New Scientist today hits the nail on the head. While the Higgs search may or may not be producing tantalising clues, the searches for supersymmetry has drawn a complete blank. Zilch. Nada. Not the merest smidgeon of a scintilla. The class of supersymmetric theories is broad and no doubt many possibilities remain viable; the current measurements only rule out the “minimal” variety. But I think this is a timely reminder not to take nature for granted. Perhaps an ugly fact is about to slay a beautiful hypothesis…
UPDATE: Bookmaker Paddy Power has shortened the odds on a Higgs discovery this year from 12-1 against to 3-1 on.Follow @telescoper