Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Guest post

John Conway writes a guest post. Thanks, John!



When I was first contacted by Clayton and Monica, and invited them out to Fermilab to begin shooting their film, I had in mind at it would be typical science documentary: a sort of voice-of-God "explanation" of our science, what we do, why it's interesting. I could tell on their first visit to Fermilab, though, that they had bigger things in mind. Once I understood what they were after, I tried to hook them up with as many of the people involved in our great quest as I could, people who I hoped would turn out to be interesting on camera.

I have seen the film three times now, and every time I see it I like it better. It really is a unique approach to what could be a very dry and uninteresting topic. (Of course for us physicists it's anything but dry or uninteresting!) The film really captures the spirit of the hunt for the Higgs boson, the excitement and the frustrations. It delves into our lives, our work, and the state of our field.

Hopefully without giving away how the film ends, I can tell you we still have not found any experimental evidence for the Higgs boson. The Tevatron at Fermilab is running amazingly well, we are recording tons of new data every day, and every bit of data brings us a little bit closer to finally seeing the Higgs boson. Next year, the LHC at CERN will start operating for real. It was supposed to have already happened, but in the first two weeks of commissioning, machine suffered a rather serious setback when a string of magnets was damaged by an electrical malfunction. Will this be the break that the Tevatron needed?

Having studied this question for many years now, I think it will still be very hard for the Tevatron experiments to discover the Higgs boson before the LHC, unless the Higgs boson is of the type predicted, for example, by supersymmetry. (That is in fact what I spend my time looking for!) If nature we were that kind, we definitely have a chance to see that at the Tevatron, and as the film shows, we thought we almost had. But hey, you never know...


And what about funding for our field? Happily, we have elected a new president who has promised to try to double the funding for science in the next decade. That would be fantastic except for one quote from the film which keeps coming back to haunt me: it's when Bush's science advisor Jack Marburger intimates that he doesn't foresee funding for high energy physics increasing anytime in the near future. So, it could be that though the rest of science, other fields of physics, enjoy 5-10% increases every year, high-energy physics may not. Time will tell, but I think that we need a major discovery in their field one way or another before our funding levels will increase significantly.

On the home front, as noted at the end of the film, Robin and I (well Robin mostly) had a baby boy in June! Our four month old has made three trips to every lab and one trip to Mexico already, and we are going to Taiwan in December! Yes, his passport photo is very cute. He does take a lot of our time and energy, and we are certain he will be a physicist someday; what other choice could there be?

5 comments:

robine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
robine said...

Make that five months old and four trips to Fermilab now, as of this past week! :)

Clayton said...

Aha! I just figured out that "Robine" = Robin E. Hi, Robin!

Can you send a picture of Ian?

monica said...

I'm really impressed with Ian's travel! He's on his way to becoming a citizen of the world--as well as a physicist! :)

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