Saturday 31 December 2011

2011 Recap

What a year it was! It started with an earthquake, followed by rising tension. In the previous years I had to think hard to make up a decent blogging subject, this year it was enough to just sit and wait for the next breaking news. Here's a pick of the most important events in the particle world in the year 2011.

January: CDF finds new physics in tops
Measurements of the forward-backward asymmetry of the top pair production at the Tevatron have been showing interesting hints of new physics for a long time. CDF found that this asymmetry displays a very steep dependence of the energy of the colliding partons (that is on the invariant mass of the top pair) which represents a 3.4σ departure from the Standard Model predictions. Unfortunately, later on D0 did not confirm the steep mass dependence, and we need to wait more for the matter to be clarified.

April: CDF gives us goosebumps
CDF studied the invariant mass spectrum of jet pairs produced in association with a W boson, and found a bump near the 150 GeV dijet mass. After the subsequent update, the significance of the bump exceeded 4σ. It would be a clear evidence of new physics if not for the evil D0 who did not find any bump in their data. The origin of the bump will probably remain a mystery forever, much like the Roswell incident, because the Tevatron management is not very determined to resolve it.

April: Xenon100 does not find dark matter
Dark matter searches gain sensitivity at an impressive pace. Xenon100, currently the most sensitive detector for the vanilla dark matter particles, published the results based on the first 100 days of running. No luck so far. As a consolation, for each experiment that does not find dark matter there is one that does; this year CRESST joined the latter club, while CoGeNT announced an annual modulation of its detection rate. In any case, the hunt continues, it will take several more years before we may conclude we're looking in the wrong place.

April: Red Higgs Alarm
It was the first Higgs alarm this year: an internal ATLAS memo leaked to a blog was claiming a 4σ evidence for a 115 GeV Higgs in the γγ channel. The second time the alarm buzzed was after the EPS conference, when the unpublished combination of ATLAS and CMS was showing nearly 4σ evidence for a Higgs around 145 GeV. In both cases the evidence was quickly washed away by more data from the LHC. One positive thing we learned is that in the digital era collaboration secrecy is moot :-)

Summer: LHC bites deep into new territory
Around the EPS and Lepton-Photon conferences the LHC presented a number of new physics searches based on 1 inverse femtobarn of data. Alas, nothing exciting was found. SUSY, at least in its simplest incarnations, is being pushed above 1 TeV. And so are extra dimensions, technicolor, Z primes, dijet resonances, and any broader scenario that is not stealthy by design. Cold sweat is running down the backs of particle theorists...

September: OPERA goes superluminal
The OPERA collaboration stunned the world announcing that neutrinos produced at CERN arrive to their detector in Gran Sasso about 60 nanoseconds earlier than expected if they traveled at the speed of light. However the physics community remains unconvinced. There is indeed a number of very strong phenomenological and theoretical arguments that the OPERA result cannot be right. What do I think? At first I thought the pulse shape was the culprit, but that criticism was subsequently addressed by repeating the measurement with 3 nanosecond pulses. Now I think they should patent their set-up as a GPS synchronization tool :-)

September: US pulls the plug on Tevatron
It was like seeing an old dog put to death: you know it's for the better, but still it feels so sad. Of course, the Tevatron has not said the final word yet; we're still waiting for the collaborations to analyze the full data set. But the number of searches where the Tevatron can compete with the LHC is shrinking rapidly...
November: LHCb finds CP violation in charm
LHCb found that decays of D mesons into π+π- and K+K- violate the CP symmetry (at least one of them). We have seen CP violation in the K and B meson sectors, but the LHCb result was a big surprise: there was a lore that discovering CP violation in the charm meson sector at the 1% level would be a clear sign of new physics (although that is no longer so clear). Whatever it is, we learned something new about the world...

December: LHC glimpses Higgs
Higgs has been finally cornered and we think we're seeing the tip of his hat. Both ATLAS and CMS observe an excess of events in the γγ, ZZ and WW channels consistent with a Higgs boson of mass around 125 GeV. To be continued and ultimately resolved in 2012.

So raise your glasses, this one's over. According to the Mayans, the year 2o12 will be a bit shorter, but it shouldn't be less eventful ;-)


Kea said...

Well, a belated Happy New Year, Jester. As you say, 2012 should be a good one.

Anonymous said...

Great summary, many thanks

Anonymous said...

Don't blame Mayans for modern craziness - see, for example the wiki
article on the 2012 Phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Just wanted to say thank you for a great summary post. 2011 did make me sit up and look at the world of particle physics again. I don't know it well enough to really understand this post (yet), but will revisit this again someday!

tulpoeid said...

"One positive thing we learned is that in the digital era collaboration secrecy is moot."

Sure. That's how ~ten thousand people knew about the silly "higgs peaks" for the last three months, and not one word got outside.

Anonymous said...

Remember that though D0 Afb mass - dependence was inconclusive, the inclusive asymmetry was 3 sigma. I thought that was VERY interesting. Bring on 2012!