“We have to be more certain than certain that can’t happen again,” adds Baird. Despite the setback, in just over two years of operations involving 10,000 specialists around the world analyzing the data its particle collisions produced the collider came up last summer with the long-sought elementary particle, the Higgs boson.
That, explained Canadian physicist Pauline Gagnon, “was the final brick in the edifice of our concept of the universe” – the three-decade old Standard Model that fits everything known about how particles, at the base of all matter, behave.
“With the LHC power doubled, we will start looking for what we think is out there beyond that model. And we always hope that something will turn up that no one had ever thought of. The most likely is something totally unexpected.”
But among the known unknowns to be sought, Gagnon plumps for dark matter, the invisible stuff that makes up some 27 percent of the universe, six times more than the normal material that reflects light and can be seen from Earth or space.
James Wells, a U.S. professor and theoretician at CERN for two years, looks to more exotic versions of the Higgs – the particle whose associated energy field turned matter to mass after the Big Bang, shaping galaxies – and life on earth.
Those, he said, “could lead us to supersymmetry,” a theory, so far unsupported by LHC data, that every elementary particle has an invisible and heavier partner, “and to up to eight more spatial dimensions”.
Oliver Buchmueller, an experimental physicist, also hopes to see proof of supersymmetry, popularly known among proponents as SUSY, and of the extra dimensions foreseen in string theory, the idea that particles are no more than vibrating strings.
Could that take science beyond, into the extension of string theory that predicts the existence of parallel universes or a perpetually growing galaxy of universes, impenetrable one from the other, that cosmologists call the Multiverse?
“Not in our time,” says Wells. “But we humans are amazingly creative. One day, if it exists, we will find a way to prove it.”