Find the hidden mechanism of the world: “Higgs presents us with some problems” – Wikipedia

Mr. Mnich, the Large Hadron Collider’s particle accelerator – the LHC for short – is currently restarting after a three-year maintenance outage. What did you and your colleagues do during this time?

We refurbished many parts to make the LHC even more powerful. On the other hand, this applies to the first acceleration stage, the so-called injection, from which protons are then introduced into the annular tunnel. But the detectors have also been improved to be able to record and evaluate more collisions. An LHCb detector, for example, will be able to handle a data rate five times higher in the future.

Why this effort? The Higgs particle was discovered ten years ago, and there’s no target in sight yet, which sounds really exciting to the general public. You may think you are wandering in the fog.

The discovery of the Higgs boson was something very special. You can’t expect something like this every year. Science is a long journey, where every little result is a step forward. As for Higgs, we’ve learned a lot about her over the past 10 years. We’ve studied its properties compared to what we’d expect, and we’re still far from finished.

What else do you want to know about the Higgs particle?

It presents us with some problems. We ask ourselves why is it so easy? In fact, it should be much heavier by volume. In order to make it easier, on the one hand, there is a magic truncation in the Fundamental Theorem, where you cross out two large numbers that are the same in many numbers. Or there is a hidden mechanism that we don’t know yet that makes it very easy. The Higgs could also be a gateway to supersymmetry. There will be at least five different Higgs particles. So we ask: Is there just one Higgs boson or several? In this case, the properties of the detected Higgs boson deviate slightly from what was expected.

Joachim Menisch has been Director of Research and Computing at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva since 2021. Previously he was …Photo: Marta Meyer/Daisy

You’re not just going to track down the Higgs, are you?

of course not. There are three other areas to focus. First, we hope for new insights into dark matter. The particles we know make up only five percent of the visible universe, so what’s the rest? Second, it has to do with antimatter. What we know today is just a tiny remnant that remained after the Big Bang. About one particle out of every ten billion, all the rest went with the annihilation of antimatter and matter. We’d like to know why. One possibility: Someone added a little pinch over it. Or is there a mechanism that ensures that matter and antimatter are not completely opposite images. This is to be investigated with LHCb.

And the third focus?

Regarding gravity. The power that each of us experiences on Earth cannot be explained by quantum physics. There are various theories on how to solve this, for example string theory. We’re trying to find clues about which approach really works. Perhaps this will indeed work with the energies generated by the LHC, or later with its successors.

You mean the Future Circular Collider, or FCC for short: a 100-kilometre circular accelerator at CERN, for which a feasibility study is currently underway. Critics say miniaturization should be promoted rather than an expensive giant machine for a smaller, cheaper build. what do you say?

Of course we’re looking at how to build accelerators in smaller formats, but that’s still too early. It is not certain whether a similar system will work in the next three decades. Whether that’s really cheaper, just as much.

So we can’t avoid the hardly estimated 20 billion euros?

Of course, that’s a lot of money already being invested in the LHC and also the FCC when it comes. But it is an infrastructure used by about 13,000 researchers from 50 countries over a long period of time. The LHC program, for example, spans two decades into the future. CERN’s budget is about 1.2 billion Swiss francs, which is roughly equivalent to the budget of an average-sized European university or the equivalent of one cup of coffee per year for every citizen in our member states. I don’t think that’s much.

China also wants to build a 100-kilometre accelerator, which should be ready by the mid-2030s, well ahead of the FCC. Is it also the political will to keep such a large research facility in Europe?

certainly. We know the plans of the Chinese CEPC – the Circular Electron-Positron Collider – whether the timeline is realistic is another question. One thing is clear: Cern is the world’s leading laboratory for this scientific and accelerating technology. If we do not want to give up this leading position, we must also make the appropriate investments.

Wouldn’t it be better to participate in the Chinese factory to save money and keep researching in this area?

Do we want that? Just one example: We develop high-temperature superconductors for strong magnets that can hold 100,000 amperes. It is no longer necessary to cool it to two K with liquid helium, as we now do with the LHC, but only to 20 K. On the one hand, this requires much less energy for cooling, and on the other hand, it can also be done with hydrogen. It might be worth considering using this technology to transport electricity and hydrogen at the same time, for example from large wind power regions in the north to southern Germany. I can list more, for example, the detector techniques used today in medicine for PET scans. In my opinion, both are required, more applied research to today’s problems, but also basic research driven by curiosity.

Do you have a favorite place in Cern?

Outside of pandemic times, this is clearly the canteen. You are seated at the meal surrounded by an array of Babylonian languages, which is the best way to experience the international character. I spent a lot of time at Cern in the ’90s and I remember many evenings sitting there with my colleagues for a beer in the evening, and together we thought about how to solve problems that arose during the day.

Then we went to bed with new ideas we wanted to try the next day to achieve more. This feeling was and still is very special.

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