Monday, June 24, 2019

30 years from now, what will a next larger particle collider have taught us?

The year is 2049. CERN’s mega-project, the Future Circular Collider (FCC), has been in operation for 6 years. The following is the transcript of an interview with CERN’s director, Johanna Michilini (JM), conducted by David Grump (DG).

DG: “Prof Michilini, you have guided CERN through the first years of the FCC. How has your experience been?”

JM: “It has been most exciting. Getting to know a new machine always takes time, but after the first two years we have had stable performance and collected data according to schedule. The experiments have since seen various upgrades, such as replacing the thin gap chambers and micromegas with quantum fiber arrays that have better counting rates and have also installed… Are you feeling okay?”

DG: “Sorry, I may have briefly fallen asleep. What did you find?”

JM: “We have measured the self-coupling of a particle called the Higgs-boson and it came out to be 1.2 plus minus 0.3 times the expected value which is the most amazing confirmation that the universe works as we thought in the 1960s and you better be in awe of our big brains.”

DG: “I am flat on the floor. One of the major motivations to invest into your institution was to learn how the universe was created. So what can you tell us about this today?”

JM: “The Higgs gives mass to all fundamental particles that have mass and so it plays a role in the process of creation of the universe.”

DG: “Yes, and how was the universe created?”

JM: “The Higgs is a tiny thing but it’s the greatest particle of all. We have built a big thing to study the tiny thing. We have checked that the tiny thing does what we thought it does and found that’s what it does. You always have to check things in science.”

DG: “Yes, and how was the universe created?”

JM: “You already said that.”

DG: “Well isn’t it correct that you wanted to learn how the universe was created?”

JM: “That may have been what we said, but what we actually meant is that we will learn something about how nuclear matter was created in the early universe. And the Higgs plays a role in that, so we have learned something about that.”

DG: “I see. Well, that is somewhat disappointing.”

JM: “If you need $20 billion, you sometimes forget to mention a few details.”

DG: “Happens to the best of us. All right, then. What else did you measure?”

JM: “Ooh, we measured many many things. For example we improved the precision by which we know how quarks and gluons are distributed inside protons.”

DG: “What can we do with that knowledge?”

JM: “We can use that knowledge to calculate more precisely what happens in particle colliders.”

DG: “Oh-kay. And what have you learned about dark matter?”

JM: “We have ruled out 22 of infinitely many hypothetical particles that could make up dark matter.”

DG: “And what’s with the remaining infinitely many hypothetical particles?”

JM: “We are currently working on plans for the next larger collider that would allow us to rule out some more of them because you just have to look, you know.”

DG: “Prof Michilini, we thank you for this conversation.”

53 comments:

  1. You have a little shout out to Voltaire with Micromegas.

    By 2049 humanity may have a whole other set of fish to fry. We may be entering deep into the bio-collapse or mass extinction we are engineering, and on which there is a lot of denial.

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    1. You mean you do not believe that a next larger collider will result in mindbobbling unpredictable breakthrough spinoffs and save the world?

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    2. Lawrence Crowell: Agreed. But I'm not sure we will have the fish to fry! The good news is we probably won't spend the $20B on the FCC, it will be scrapped after a few $billion due to economic collapses resulting from climate change, fishery collapses, agricultural collapses, refuge, food and water crises, and a host of other domino-effect ramifications we are blissfully ignoring. Or treating like momentary inconveniences like a pesky cancer.

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    3. The FCC will do little to save the world even if there are great discoveries that link the Higgs boson to other fields in some startling way. Of course given the time frames maybe we should just go with the FCC.

      I have to point out there are other "big science" programs, such as sending astronauts to Mars. That will dwarf the FCC by comparison into a shopping trip at a dollar store.

      Everything is easy to predict except the future. It is not possible to know how all of this entropic demolition of planet Earth will impact us. Clearly at some point we can destroy only so much of the biosphere before it ceases to function as our life support system. So I do suspect at some point humanity may get to its senses, probably after our butts start to get thoroughly kicked, where we put the Motls and t'Rumps in the waste basket and get to work reconfiguring our technosphere. I suspect our attention will significantly shift away from things like the FCC. Then again maybe we will not heed the warnings or do so too late. In that case things like the FCC will not matter much because humans will be too busy dying.

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  2. Sabine, that would be hilarious, if it weren't for the fact that this is the most likely outcome of the $20 billion FCC. To me this project is as pointless as all of the dark matter experiments.

    It seems it is easy to get funding for any project as long as it has public popularity. Doesn't matter if the project has real merit or not.

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  3. Funny stuff.

    Typo: "was to learn how to universe was created." Should be "was to learn how the universe was created."

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  4. My guess is that long before 2049, most electricity will be renewable, and therefore dependent on the weather, and thus intermittent. As a result it won't be possible to run experiments such as the FCC except perhaps in places like China that will still be running on fossil fuel.

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    1. That is a false assertion.

      There is absolutely zero reasons intermittent weather cannot generate reliably continuous power for months on end. There are existing, low tech solutions for that requiring little more than bulldozers: On a flat plain we can dig a hole to build a high reservoir, use intermittent power to pump water from a drainage pond up to the high reservoir, and for power drain the high reservoir through turbines to generate continuous electricity. The energy losses from that scheme are not terrible at all; in fact there are literally hundreds of hills and mountains in the USA suitable for this scheme, where nature has already provided the height differential for us. On top of that, both the reservoir and drainage pond can support fish and wildlife, and be used for recreation, or as a fresh water supply.

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    2. How many of these power storage facilities are actually being built, and are they commensurate with the scale of the problem? In the worst weather scenarios - a cold, cloudy winter spell with little of no wind - they might have to replace most or all of the renewable energy generated by wind and solar.

      You are also assuming the FCC will be built in the US.


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    3. Sabine,

      I thought you post was wonderful - painfully accurate.

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    4. Intermittency of wind is evident locally, tends to disappear at larger scales. At one point I had a job monitoring air pollution. Each morning I would download the North American weather map. At that scale the wind never stopped blowing.

      If our electrical grid were optimized for wind, instead of coal and nukes, we could easily switch. This would require a government policy decision.

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    5. There's already one of these in the Snowdonia national park.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinorwig_Power_Station

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    6. David Bailey: How many of these power storage facilities are actually being built

      That makes no difference, they CAN be built and their construction is straightforward and scalable, so if your premise is correct and all our electricity (world wide) is being produced by intermittent wind and solar, then simple solutions like reservoirs, or better solutions (molten salt storage for the short term (a week or two) is already being used) or the long term (electrolysis of water into liquefied hydrogen and oxygen is already viable) will be accomplished as needed. We didn't build highway systems until we needed them, either.

      David Bailey: and are they commensurate with the scale of the problem?

      Of course they will be. If you are asking is it possible, the answer is yes, easily possible.

      David Bailey: In the worst weather scenarios - a cold, cloudy winter spell with little of no wind - they might have to replace most or all of the renewable energy generated by wind and solar.

      Oh golly! Not ONE of the tens of thousands of trained engineers worldwide working in power systems has EVER thought of that! We are soooo dumb!

      Oh wait, turns out we have. We discovered there is this whole developed field of mathematics, called "statistics" we can use to predict worst-case scenarios with weather events.

      David Bailey: You are also assuming the FCC will be built in the US.

      I am assuming no such thing; I am using the USA as a reasonable proxy for the world, because I know something about the situation in the USA. Also, as I said, a raised reservoir can be built on a flat plain, if necessary; there is plenty of non-arable land in the world we could use to that end.

      It is your premise we will switch to primarily renewable energy. I hope it is true, and if it is, then the infrastructure for storage and consistency will follow as fast as we need it. Much as it did for cars needing roads, electricity and telephones needing wires and central stations, Radio and TV needing broadcast stations, and later cable to tens of millions of homes, cellular phones needing cell towers everywhere, personal computer manufacturing, the Internet needing storage and providers, hubs and switches.

      My point is we don't have to "figure this out", we have many viable routes to storage and consistent delivery of intermittently gathered power, they already exist, they are not high tech, they are scalable, and they don't demand any rare resources (like some proposed battery systems will do).

      It is bad logic to assume we will switch to renewables without building all the infrastructure needed to go with it. It is a dystopic fantasy used to frighten people away from renewable energy, and it assumes the people advocating for renewables are utter morons, which I assume is part of the desired effect.

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    7. In Switzerland we have lots of storage power stations. During the night, we pump water up the hill into reservoirs (not very attractive lakes btw and not very usable for recreation because of the rapid change of the water level) using nuclear energy and use it during peak hours. There are some really difficult problems to solve with an energy mix using sun, wind, water. We need a base load energy that is just there all the time like a nuclear power or fossil fuel power station and something for the peaks that we can turn on and off as need and that must work pretty fast. In an electrical grid, the load and production must be very finely balanced, otherwise we get a blackout. Sun and wind can not provide the base load. Therefore we either find something that just works independent of the weather and day and night, or we find a way to store enough energy. None of it is anywhere near.
      BTW, our grids were not made for households producing energy. That's another problem that costs quite a lot of money.

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    8. Let's take the UK. According to Wiki, peak electric power usage in the UK stands at 52.7 GW.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_the_United_Kingdom

      According to this, we have 2.8 GW of pumped storage capacity.

      http://www.british-hydro.org/hydro-facts/

      We also have a few battery energy storage facilities, but these offer much less power.

      We also get cold periods in some winters with no wind and cloudy skies.

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    9. David Bailey: Let's take the UK and do what? Imagine that whatever it has right now is all that it will ever have? Shall we imagine British engineers are so incompetent they cannot build anything new, or re-purpose land for new reservoirs?

      It doesn't really make too much difference what their storage capacity is now, if (by your premise) they are green by 2049, then between now and then they will invest in building the storage capacity, in parallel with their building of the green generation capacity, in order to make the delivery of electricity reliable and continuous.

      As for winter: An ice cap on a reservoir doesn't freeze the whole of it; water can still be pumped into it and drained out of it.

      I will also point out that electricity can be generated elsewhere and imported, as many countries import gas and petroleum, but the conveyance of electricity is much less complicated than either of those options, with no risk of spills or pollution. Power wires are not pipelines or cargo ships.

      And by the same token, pumped storage reservoirs can be built elsewhere (as I noted earlier, nearly anywhere), and when needed the electricity delivered by wire to the UK.

      The UK also has a lot of sea water. There are ways to store energy there, too, similar to pumped storage. It takes energy to submerge (pull down) a buoyant object, and when needed its ascent can do work that generates electricity.

      The particular schemes used and current state are only marginally predictive; just as we could only guess in 1920 what the UK's power generation and storage facilities would look like in 1950. The storage facilities necessary to produce reliable and continuous green power will evolve and be built in concert with the production facilities.

      To claim otherwise is fear-mongering to preserve the status quo, and a denigration of the intelligence of green energy advocates, scientists and engineers. No technical obstacles stand in the way of reliable continuous affordable green energy worldwide for 95% to 100% of demands. The issues are not in science or engineering, the issues are in political and commercial interests. Which themselves are likely to be impossible to solve before it is too late to avert a worldwide catastrophe, composed of myriad sub-catastrophes feeding off each other.

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  5. Hi Bee!

    I called you out on LinkedIn. I double dog dare you to reply. At least connect with me there so I can bask with my many frenemys.

    R/

    tod

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    1. I do not "connect" with people I don't know and I do not understand what you want from me. Find yourself someone else to play with.

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  6. At least Prof. Michilini didn't say they'd once again "confirmed the Standard Model" - a phrase which has to rank among the worst PR buzz-kills of all time...

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  7. Here in the US we are spending astronomic sums on sports. That doesn't accomplish anything either. People used to criticize me for being a poor father. I should have been taking my kids to sporting events. We used to take our kids out to Fermilab instead.

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  8. Hi Bee!

    Shot down in typical Bee fashion that I've grown to love. Don't stop.

    R/

    tod

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  9. Aside from the mind bending breakthoughs LHC2 will bring come 2049, why do people have so little faith in NUCLEAR FUSION to solve our greatest challenge (global warming, climate change)???

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    1. spackie: Because it is a fantasy. We (research scientists in general) have thrown tens of millions of $ at it in research and experiments for decades, and you won't find a single home on Earth powered by human-built Nuclear Fusion. If it ever becomes a reality, it would likely take centuries to scale it up to powering billions of homes and millions of businesses and factories.

      However, the Sun is a very reliable nuclear fusion engine. We already know many ways to harness the output with very little investment, that are scalable, and we already know how to build it, deploy it, store it, and use it.

      If we listen to the best guesses of scientists, we have about 15 years to do something significant or the world is destined to have a melt down. Even if they are wrong by a factor of three (in the optimistic direction; which is far from guaranteed), people under 20 today are likely to suffer through that melt down.

      Nuclear Fusion is not ready, and won't be ready, and cannot possibly have an impact on global warming in the time-frame required.

      Nobody knows when or IF practical man-made Nuclear Fusion power plants will ever exist. Hyping Nuclear Fusion as the solution to Climate Change is just like hyping the FCC as a machine to discover how the universe began. They are both fantasies sold by the researchers that want money so they can keep doing what they've been doing because they have deluded themselves into thinking it is still important. (In truth I don't care about their motives or reasoning, their fantasies are getting in the way of real solutions.)

      We've got this thing upside down when it comes to climate change. The theorists have done their job and predicted the shape of the future, it is time for action to prevent it. Practical engineers should be in charge now (and I am not one of them, so this is not a self-serving statement). The pencil-and-paper part is over, there are many practical existing solutions we can use, we need to put in the field the army of women and men that know how to build shit and get it done on a global scale. The scientists can support the engineering requests for research and improvements that would make the deployment more rapid and efficient.

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    2. Because it is freaking difficult. That darn plasma is hard to handle. Fast neutrons flying everywhere. Tritium must be bred and it needs quite a lot of it (relatively speaking). Materials, huge problem still. ITER and other experiments are on their way, but nobody can say, if fusion will ever be an economical solution to our energy hunger. Fusion reactors would only be good for the basic loads anyway, like nuclear power stations today. We still need other sources like hydrodynamic power stations for the peak loads. No, fusion isn't the solution to all our energy problems, just some.
      It might well be, that in the not so far future, we may find the sustainable energy mix (without fossil fuels hopefully, coal and oil must go first) that works without fusion.

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    3. Not to mention the fact that energy from fusion would come in addition to energy from fossile fuel. Event if it was coming quickly, and cheap, there is no particular reason for these people that are pumping and mining to stop. Less money is still money. The effect on the injection of carbon dioxyde in the atmosphere would be zero (but our life would be more comfortable, at least for those that can afford a nuclear fusion plant at home!)

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  10. The experiments have since seen various upgrades, such as replacing the thin gap chambers and micromegas with quantum fiber arrays that have better counting rates and have also installed… Are you feeling okay?

    haha! this sentence is so smooth and makes so little sense I thought it was legit engineering-speak! micromegas...

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    1. Micromegas are a real thing (see Wikipedia). It's the quantum fiber arrays that I've made up. Who knows, maybe by 2049 these will be real too ;)

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    2. I thought you were pulling this name Micromegas from the novella written by Voltaire by the same name. Voltaire's Micromegas is an amusing sort of mid-late 18th century science fiction. This detector appears to be a version of a drift chamber I remember learning about in an intro-particle physics course.

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  11. Sabine, don't be dismissive. Averaging the 1.2±0.3 with the 1.4 ± 0.3 obtained 15 years earlier by CEPC gives an exciting anomaly that can be fitted adding a DM scalar

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    1. it's a hint for NNMMSM SUSY. See arXiv:4209.31173 for a mansplanation.

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  12. I hugely enjoyed this interview. Using gentle humor and deep insight you have pointed out something fundamental about the future of energy frontier in physics. We are now in the twilight of high energy accelerators. Society simply cannot afford to build anymore large particle accelerators. Eventually the particle physics community would have accept this basic fact and look for other ways to explore the remaining electroweak energy landscape. Perhaps some ingenious way to build cosmic ray detectors may help. After all nature is providing these ultra high energy particles for free!!!

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  13. You're having a little fun at FCC supprter's expense, but of course they've mostly earned it.

    I laughed aloud at "I am flat on the floor."

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  14. The Tokomaks seem better positioned to collect more information on nuclear particles and forces in a manner more useful for the future.

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  15. Particle physics has contributed little to the material progress of man over the last 40 years. Most such progress has come as a result of the edisonian method of invention where trial an error along with dogged persistence produces results and where perspiration is far more productive than inspiration. The lack of effort and the insular nature of the particle discovery field has failed to impart any associated knowledge to the common folk. Just through their share force of will, the common man has pushed forward the frontiers of practical knowledge by centuries beyond anything that particle physics has done. What good does the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake serve, when such efforts have no practical use.

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    1. What constitutes material progress might be a matter of perspective. Computer technology and the internet are largely used for unseemly activities ranging from criminality, to pornography to mindless games. Technology in general might in fact be seen as a way to generate ever more complicated forms of trash.

      Pure physics such as particle physics or maybe more erudite subjects such as algebraic geometry or topology might not put a device in my pocket, but they inform me on the nature of things or the foundation of structural thought.

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    2. Let's take look at a few things you assert 'the common man' has developed shall we? First off, MIR scanning the basis for which is proton spin. Take another example,ion therapy treatment for cancer. And another example, superconductors. The AIDS treatment Kaletra developed in part through use of the Advanced Photon Source (synchrotron radiation)also comes to mind.
      To cut the list short - are you using a touch screen and communicating over the world wide web? And next time you use a GPS system remember that it relies on atomic clocks. Then there's your mobile phone...

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    3. The foundation of structural thought is antithetical to the foundations and principles behind natural selection. Structural thought is rules based. When modes of thinking violate these rules, then those modes are condemned as nonproductive. Whereas the life blood of natural selection is the embrace of randomness as the ruling principle upon which the universe is predicated. Thought should embrace randomness so that every possible condition can be explored.

      Breakthroughs come from the embrace of randomness where every combination of every condition has been considered and the most unlikely case turns out to conform to how reality works. Structural thought, on the other hand is deign to consider this unlikely case because it violates long established and sacrosanct modes of thought.

      The LHC is an edifice built on establishing sacrosanct rules. The standard model is the canon of the LHC, and that liturgy cannot be violated. These rules are strangling science and science is dyeing as a response. Dumping 20 Billion into that mode of thinking in an attempt to establish more detailed and restrictive rules will only further discourage the natural variability that human thought is prone to take. It is this wellspring of inspiration that has fueled the accent of humankind. Yes, natural selection is inefficient being prone to countless tragedies, useless toil, and dead ends but it is the only way to response to the universe on its own terms.

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  16. I'm pretty sure we'll be able to make the fusion generators work using controllers based on quantum computers. These quantum computers will never decohere thanks to their advanced, axion-based dark matter qubit technology.

    Saving the world, one fictional breakthrough at a time. You're welcome.

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  17. This seems to me as the by far most likely outcome of the FCC by 2049. Only problem is that most other experiments are equally likely to produce null results. In 2049,

    - Future LIGO discovers more gravitational waves, black holes, neutron stars, etc, everything in perfect agreement with Einstein's general theory of relativity from 1916.

    - Future Kamiokande sees no proton decay, but raises the lower limit by three orders of magnitude.

    - Future EDM experiments reduces the limit by three orders of magnitude.

    Most likely, everything will still be described by SM + GR with very little extra. The challenge for theorists is find the viewpoint from which SM+GR is simple, natural, beautiful, and unavoidable. Like planetary motion when described by ellipses rather than epicycles.

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    1. Thomas,

      Each of the experiments you mention is less costly than the FCC by at least a factor of ten.

      Besides, the point of LIGO is not in the first line to look for deviations from GR but to measure what is out there in the cosmos that produces gravitational waves.

      The correct statement would be that most other experiments *currently under discussion* are equally likely to produce null results. The lesson to draw from this is that people in the field do not have useful discussions, not that that's the best which is possible.

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    2. These experiments are perhaps less costly than the FCC, but a non-null result will also say less. If experiments see proton decay or EDM fine, but then so what? These experiments won't give any hints about what is causing this. It's like Hubble discovered in 1998 that 95% of the universe consists of dark stuff; 20 years down the lane, nobody has a clue what the dark stuff is. (I'm inclined to think that it is an artifact that arises because you look at it from the wrong viewpoint, like epicycles).

      But at the end of the day, I don't think it matters much where physicists put their money. FCC will probably fail, but so will cheaper experiments probing BSM physics. If there is something beyong the SM (+GR), which I very much doubt, it should manifest itself both in FCC and in other experiments. At any rate I won't personally care very much, since when the FCC results are announced in 2049 I will be 91.

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  18. 30 years from now, what will a next larger particle collider have taught us? -it will have taught us that we need a larger particle collider.

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    1. I'm not a physicist. But I assume the new collider will be able to quickly give us the Higgs mass, thus teaching us that we should have saved $10 billion by skipping the LHC.

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  19. Hi Sabine, excellent !

    I love the Monthy Pythons...

    Best,
    J.

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  20. Professor Sabine I find it quite depressing that we are reduced to particle accelerators to advance Physics. I mean, it looks rather drab and hopeless when you'd need a machine "the size of the Milky Way" for real progress, doesn't it? Looks like the Golden Age of Physics was 1900, and now it is over. :((

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  21. Very amusing. Please could you do a similar interview on the ex post facto colonization of Mars?

    Oh and by the way. I though civilization as we know it would have been long gone by 2049. Wouldn't the new collider have been under water by then?

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    1. 2049, not 204,900! The (near) future is bright!

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  22. This is brilliant lol, thanks!

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  23. This echoes the point made in the Higgs Fake, though perhaps in a way that is acceptable to the ingroup. In either case, the point stands.

    Sabine, do you propose any solutions or directions to this, or are we stuck?

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  24. After getting my Ph.D. in (experimental) Particle Physics in the 90s I declined a job offer to participate in one of the main LHC experiments because at the time my feeling was that HEP was steering into a dead end. Nothing that's happened since did anything to convince me I was wrong at the time.
    That's too bad because I really think there are great questions to be answered but the focus on quasi-religious, not-to-be-questioned (non-) theories like Superstrings are not the proper way forward. Also, there's the real life with real-life problems like climate change which competes for money and, frankly, gives a better bang-for-the-buck IMHO.

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