In what can only be described as an atypical installment of the World Leaders Forum, yesterday afternoon a panel of physicists and science writers gathered in Low Library to discuss “What If We Find the Higgs Particle? And What If We Don’t?” Amateur Higgs Hunter Brian Wagner was in attendance.
An uncomfortably warm—and surprisingly crowded—Low Rotunda waited eagerly for the speakers to arrive. The panel featured theoretical physicist, author, and Columbia Professor Brian Greene; Professor of Physics and U.S. Operations Program Manager of the ATLAS project at CERN Michael Tuts; Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American Mariette DiChristina; New York Times science reporter Dennis Overbye; and was moderated by Dean of Science and Professor of Physics Amber Miller.
PrezBo stepped up to the podium and introduced the panelists. Remarking on the unusual choice of topic for a WLF event, he provided the predictable justification that the answer to the titular query “could have a profound impact on the understanding of the world.” He made a joke about iPhones with his traditional dry delivery, gave Dennis Overbye the faux title of Cosmic Affairs Correspondent of the Times, and then talked about how, like NoCo, this subject involved “linking academic disciplines to face questions,” although there’s no way the coffee at CERN could be as expensive as Joe.
Amber Miller kicked things off by explaining that the audience would have a chance to “see how science works” by including a theoretical physicist (Greene) and an experimental physicist (Tuts). Essentially, the people on the theory end develop mathematical models to explain and predict natural phenomena, and then the experimenters use high-tech machinery like the Large Hadron Collider to test the models.
On the experimental side, Professor Tuts gave an explanation of the ATLAS project at CERN with the help of a fancy animated video that included models of the detector and particle collisions. Basically: groups of protons are accelerated to near the speed of light in an underground tube and smack into each other with enough force to break apart and new particles are formed. A live feed of such “scattering events” was left on the viewscreens for the remainder of the discussion—attendees were jokingly instructed to “let [the panelists] know if you spot a Higgs.”