Who hid the Higgs?

By Shaun Hendy 29/01/2010


I had a lot of fun being interviewed by Bryan Crump on Radio NZ on Monday evening about why particle physicists have had such trouble finding the Higgs boson.  If you missed it and are interested, you can listen to the audio here.

It was a good opportunity to highlight some of the wonderful stuff going on at CERN, even if the catalyst for the interview verged on the frivolous.  As you’ll hear if you listen to the interview, Holger Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya proposed in a recent paper that production of the Higgs might be suppressed by some exotic non-local physics.  This was colourfully described in the New York Times as sabotage from the future

In the interview, I characterised their speculations as mathematical philosophy, although perhaps it is a bit more subtle than that:  their prediction that production of the Higgs specifically might be suppressed is actually falsifiable.  We’ve built the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and in three to four years, most particle physicists believe that we’ll either have found it, or else have sufficient data to conclude that it doesn’t exist.  Either outcome will falsify their prediction.

As pointed out by Sean Carroll though, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why it should be the Higgs in particular that is suppressed in this way, even if it is a mathematical possibility.  If we find the Higgs, then perhaps it’s the neutralino (the hypothetical supersymmetric partner of the neutrino) that’s being suppressed, and so on.  In this way, the theory underlying Nielsen and Ninomiya’s prediction is not itself falsifiable. 

If physics had a propensity for this type of non-locality though, I think we’d have a lot more missing pieces in our description of the Universe.  I’m also not impressed by the card game suggested to test this (pick a card from a million card deck, where just one says ’Don’t build the LHC’).  There are plenty of ways to not find the Higgs other than falling victim to a spot of bad luck in a card game.  Perhaps the Universe should have avoided evolving physicists in the first place? 

Anyway, I’ve been invited to appear every 5-6 weeks on Nights on Radio NZ in the Thursday science slot at 8.45pm.  I will be trying my best to mix fun and fact, and I am happy to consider any suggestions readers might have for topics to discuss with Bryan. 

I will leave the last word to a Radio NZ listener who sent in a text during the interview: ’If the Swiss can build a 27km long tunnel for $8bn, how come we can’t build a tunnel under the harbour for $3bn?’.


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