One of the biggest moments in the life of a scientist is when he/she is about to make a discovery, and when that discovery is so grand that it might land them a nobel prize, it’s a cherry on top. But, what if that ‘probable discovery’ is just a mis-matching of data? The dream shatters. It is undoubtedly heart-breaking, but nevertheless an important lesson for the future.
On Friday I came across this amazing old TEDx video on YouTube(link in bottom). TedEx videos are heaven for nerds and curious minds, small interactive speeches by brilliant people. This particular video was by James Beacham, a scientist at CERN. It was about how Particle Physics is developing and new data is pouring fast. One of the most interesting part of this fifteen-minute video was when James talked about the time when his team ‘almost’ discovered a new particle ‘Graviton’ , and this discovery could have grand implications to our knowledge of Physics, and certainly must have made him a Nobel Laureate, but it wasn’t so, the discovery was just some data approximation error. Either way, here is why this could have been revolutionizing and what actually happened. Before I continue I would like to make you familiar with three points, and if you are in a hurry you can skip to the end of this post and read the summary.
Firstly, Opposite to what one might think, gravity is a very, very weak force, almost as 10-39 times as weak as other fundamental forces( Electromagnetic, Strong and, Weak Forces). Think about it, every time you jump, you defy gravity, a small magnet is powerful enough to attract an iron nail against gravity. Secondly, as Einstein’s theory of relativity allows space-time to bend, warp, and twist, it is possible that there are some higher dimensions present around us which have shrunk to dimensions smaller than nucleus, which makes them ‘invisible’ to detect directly. Many important theories, including the most acclaimed and supported String theory, predict their existence, and they are necessary to explain many events happening around us. Let me explain you. Imagine walking on a rope, you can only travel in two opposite directions, forward and backward, and thus the rope is one-dimensional to you. But if an ant was to walk on it, it could travel even sideways, because compared to the rope, it is very tiny, and so the rope is two-dimensional to it. Similar is the case in our real world. The fact that the ‘other’ dimensions are so small, prevent us from realizing them. Thirdly, the most accurate description of the atomic world, the Standard Model, has ‘particles’ associated with all matter force interactions, like photons for Electromagnetic force, and also classifies matter particles depending on their properties. The only problem? The standard model makes no predictions about the existence of a force particle(bosons) for gravity(dubbed as the graviton), whereas all the remaining three forces have bosons associated with them. This is the biggest missing piece in the theory.
Now since you are familiar with the required three points, let’s move to the main subject. To answer the above mystery, scientists theorize that the reason gravity is so weak is that it ‘leaks’ into other dimensions, which reduces its effectiveness. Imagine sharing a piece of chocolate, the more people you share it with, the lesser amount every single person gets. Now, if this were true the gravity boson, or graviton, would be much heavier than its cousins, and would thus require much larger amount of energy to be detected. So, in 2015, a year after Higgs-Boson’s discovery, the Large Hadron Collider(LHC) at CERN was upgraded to reach much higher energies in attempts to recreate Higgs Bosons, and find newer data. Now what basically happens is that Very-High Energetic beams of photons, travelling at almost light speed, accelerated by dipole magnets, are made to collide about a million times a second, releasing many particles which further disintegrate to other particles which are then detected and the data acquired is studied. The graph of this data is a distribution of points, and as more readings are taken, the average line joining these points becomes smoother, and after millions of data, a fine smooth curve is obtained verifying predictions by the standard model. When in 2015, the LHC was turned ON, there was something odd about the final graph. The average curve wasn’t smooth, but had a bump in the centre. This was a relatively big bump and riddled everyone. It could have meant the discovery of a new particle, and the bump predicted that the particle had a very high mass, and since two photons were produced by the collision, indicated the particle could be a ‘multi-dimensional graviton’! This was a very big news and spread like wildfire. Around 500 research papers were published, and people went crazy. But there was another possible explanation. Evidently, if more data was collected for better averaging the values, the bump might disappear, which meant that there was no new particle formed, and all the hype was over a poorly averaged part of a curve. Sadly, the odds were very much against the poor scientists, and a year after taking 5 times more data, the resulting, better averaged graph, showed NO bumps. There was no big discovery made the previous year.
This is the kind of thing that breaks all the spirit inside a researcher, chances like these hardly come once a lifetime. The discovery itself would have been huge. It would have meant the evidence for multi-dimensions, the missing puzzle of the Standard model, and a gateway to many more discoveries. But, this does not mean the end of it. It just means, we need better equipments, higher energies, and perhaps a better understanding. A failure in science is just a lesson to another success. Who knows, we might discover some answers in the next decade. I would suggest TEDx videos to everyone, they are a gold-mine of information and life suggestions, one should check them out at least once. Till the next time, Happy Reading!
-The Cosmogasmic Person
In Short: In 2015, the data from collisions at LHC showed a bump in the graph which could have meant the discovery of a new very heavy particle, a multi-dimensional graviton, which could have answered many missing puzzles, including evidence for multi-dimensions. Or it could have been just a poorly averaged data. A year later when the experiment was repeated, with 5 times more data, the bump disappeared. This broke the hearts of many people of the scientific community, but this wasn’t the end. It was a lesson for future. We need better technology, and perhaps better understanding of how things work.
Link To The TEDx Video By James Beacham: The Large Hadron Collider And The Beginning Of Physics| James Beacham| TEDxBerlin