The current era of particle physics is over. When scientists at CERN announced last July that they had found the Higgs boson – which is responsible for giving all other particles their mass – they uncovered the final missing piece in the framework that accounts for the interactions of all known particles and forces, a theory known as the Standard Model.
And that's a good thing, right? Maybe not.
The prized Higgs particle, physicists assumed, would help steer them toward better theories, ones that fix the problems known to plague the Standard Model. Instead, it has thrown the field into a confusing situation.
“We’re sitting on a puzzle that is difficult to explain,” said particle physicist Maria Spiropulu of Caltech, who works on one of the LHC's main Higgs-finding experiments, CMS.
It may sound strange, but physicists were hoping, maybe even expecting, that the Higgs would not turn out to be like they predicted it would be. At the very least, scientists hoped the properties of the Higgs would be different enough from those predicted under the Standard Model that they could show researchers how to build new models. But the Higgs' mass proved stubbornly normal, almost exactly in the place the Standard Model said it would be.
To make matters worse, scientists had hoped to find evidence for other strange particles. These could have pointed in the direction of theories beyond the Standard Model, such as the current favorite supersymmetry, which posits the existence of a heavy doppelganger to all the known subatomic bits like electrons, quarks, and photons.
Instead, they were disappointed by being right. So how do we get out of this mess? More data!
Over the next few years, experimentalists will be churning out new results, which may be able to answer questions about dark matter, the properties of neutrinos, the nature of the Higgs, and perhaps what the next era of physics will look like. Here we take a look at the experiments that you should be paying attention to. These are the ones scientists are the most excited about because they might just form the next cracks in modern physics.
By Adam Mann