The Universe Speaks in Numbers

I have reviewed Graham Farmelo’s new book for Nature.

You can find the full review here.

Mathematics, physics and the relationship between the two is a fascinating topic which sparks much discussion. The review only came out this morning and has already sparked a flurry of emails. Generally I’d prefer it if the discussion were to be held in the comments here rather than my inbox.

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Exploring the “Higgs Portal”

The Higgs boson is unique. Does it open a door to Dark Matter?

All known fundamental particles acquire mass by interacting with the Higgs boson. Actually, more correctly, they interact with a quantum field which is present even in “empty” space, and the Higgs boson itself is an “excitation” – a quantum ripple – in that field. Either way, what this means is that if you create a Higgs boson, it can and will decay, producing other particles, via those same interactions.

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Particle & astro-particle physics annual UK meeting

The annual UK particle physics and astroparticle physics conference was hosted by Imperial this week, and has just finished. Some slightly random highlights.

Dark Matter PDG

Goals (slide from the plenary talk by Chris McCabe, KCL)

Crisis or no crisis, the future of particle physics is a topic, of course. An apposite quote from Tejinder Virdee’s plenary talk, from the distinguished, recently-deceased geneticist Sydney Brenner:

Progress in science depends on new techniques, new discoveries and new ideas, probably in that order.


Food for thought.

Speaking of which (food and techniques), I am unreasonably chuffed with my  top conference freebie, chopsticks from major Japanese particle physics technology company, Hamamatsu.

Then there was this outstanding poster from Sheffield’s Theodore Zorbas:

(Although the poster prize itself was won by Will Yeadon, also Sheffield.)

Yesterday afternoon we had a “Town Meeting” with the funding agency (STFC), where there was much angst about cuts in the current programme. These arise because despite various important investments (for example in DUNE and the upgrades for the LHC), the “core programme”, which funds technical staff, postdocs and academics in the universities, has been on “flat cash” (and thus declining in real terms) for many years.

More positively, UCL did well for prizes. Rebecca Chislett won the Institute of Physics High Energy Particle Physics group prize…

…and Xin-Ran Liu scooped the astroparticle physics thesis prize.

After dinner we raised a toast to James Stirling.

Also announced at dinner was the fact that Birmingham had won the Bubble Chamber football tournament, played on  the Sunday before the meeting. They beat UCL on penalties in the final, so well done them. I wish we’d won, but this is the closest we have ever got in the 120 year¹ history of the trophy. Next year could be the one.


There were lots of great talks, from students to senior professors, this obviously isn’t an academic review of the meeting. The materials are linked from the agenda page at the top. Thanks everyone, especially the Imperial local organisers.

And during the final session, we even got donuts!

¹ Approx.

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Observation of a previously unseen behaviour of light

Evidence  Observation: Another update from the arXiv – this went (well) over 5 sigma today (link to ATLAS paper at the bottom of the article).

Life and Physics

Beams of light do not, generally speaking, bounce off each other like snooker balls. But at the high energies in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN they have just been observed doing exactly that


At the Guardian.

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Posted in Particle Physics, Physics, Science | Tagged , ,