Particle Physics I

The Carina Nebula | Image © Thomas Preibisch / European Southern Observatory (ESO)

This broad image of the Carina Nebula, a region of massive star formation in the southern skies, was taken in infrared light using the HAWK-I camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged. ESO

Part One Chapter 1

1984. Princeton. Dial Lodge. There’s a sparkle in your amber eyes, a boyish cut to your blonde hair. I invite myself to your patio table. We start talking.

̶  What do you do? I ask you.
̶  I’m a post-doctoral fellow. I’m doing research in high energy physics.
̶  Particle physics?
̶  Yes.
̶  And what do you study, in particular?
̶  Quarks, neutrinos, dark matter. The fundamental objects of the universe.
̶  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust?
̶  Yes. But in-between, I try to answer the big questions.
̶  By studying the smallest things?
̶  Exactly.
̶  Sounds exciting!
̶  It is.

NGC 1333 – Stellar Nursery in Perseus
Image © Agrupació Astronòmica d’Eivissa/Ibiza (AAE), Alberto Prats Rodríguez

NGC 1333 is seen in visible light as a reflection nebula, dominated by bluish hues characteristic of starlight reflected by dust. A mere 1,000 light-years distant toward the heroic constellation Perseus, it lies at the edge of a large, star-forming molecular cloud. This striking close-up view spans about two full moons on the sky or just over 15 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 1333. It shows details of the dusty region along with hints of contrasting red emission from Herbig-Haro objects, jets and shocked glowing gas emanating from recently formed stars. In fact, NGC 1333 contains hundreds of stars less than a million years old, most still hidden from optical telescopes by the pervasive stardust. The chaotic environment may be similar to one in which our own Sun formed over 4.5 billion years ago. NASA

LHC experiment: ATLAS searches for strong SUSY production at Run 2
CERN Courier March 2016

Part One Chapter 6

̶  And your research?

Yogurt, cucumber and sumac; lamb and quinoa kofta with a dressing of anchovy and olive: I relish your refined palate while your ardour whets my appetite.

̶  The paper’s been submitted.
̶  What’s it about?
̶  Oh, it’s about resolving inverse problems in the study of dark matter, extracting particle physics from scattering events.
̶  Tell me more!
̶  Sprague! Do you really want to know?

Mischief and mirth animate my smile; your amber eyes sparkle: I lean forward to catch the light.

̶  Yes!
̶  Well then, listen closely: It’s a story about Susy, a macho and a wimp.

My subtle mirth breaks out into frank laughter: Now it’s your turn to give me a mischievous smile.

̶  What?

Your lips become a shimmering bud as you sip your rosé.

̶  Susy stands for supersymmetry.
̶  What’s that?
̶  Supersymmetry is a symmetry that relates matter particles to force-exchange particles, fermions to bosons.
̶  Bosons?
̶  That’s a particle that has a spin that is an integer multiple of Planck’s quantum.
̶  I see!

There’s a nutty crunch to the quinoa grain; in the lamb mince the fire of the pepper is cooled by the fresh mint.

̶  Now, just as matter and antimatter are linked by Dirac’s equation—that’s the first theory to account fully for relativity in the context of quantum mechanics—so too are matter particles and force-exchange particles related, even though they are fundamentally different components of reality.
̶  And what does that mean?
̶  That means that every type of particle would have a supersymmetric particle as a partner.
̶  Called a sparticle, I suppose?
̶  Exactly! How did you know?
̶  I’m a poet, and you’re my Muse.

The smoked anchovy mixed with the minced lamb is delicious.

̶  So that’s Susy, now who’s the macho?

Sipping your rosé, you look at me askance. What are you preparing?

̶̶  A macho is a massive compact halo object.
̶  What’s that?
̶  It could be a body about the size of Jupiter, but not big enough to become a shining star or a black hole.
̶  I see. And who’s the wimp?
̶  The wimp is a weakly interacting massive particle. It’s the most popular DM candidate.
̶  DM?
̶  Dark matter.
̶  What’s that?

Sumac gives a lemony tang to the tart yogurt; the cool of the cucumber is reminiscent of melon.

̶̶  It’s matter that doesn’t show up at any wavelength in our telescopes. We suppose it exists because the motions of spiral galaxies, for example, show that there is more gravitational force around than the observed luminous matter can account for. As much as ninety percent of the matter present remains undetected.
̶  So in fact, your paper is about no less than… nothing?
̶  ‘The void’ would be a better term.
̶  Like in the Rig-Veda?

Jag, give me your blessing, give me a sign: I know she’s the one.

̶̶  What does it say in the Rig-Veda?
̶  ‘The non-existent was not; the existent was not. Darkness was hidden by darkness. That which became was enveloped by the void’.
̶  Wow! That’s very up-to-date! When was it written?
̶  Three and a half thousand years ago.
̶  Impressive!
̶  Poets and scientists, Marietta, hand in hand. You know my name…
̶  …look up my number!

A surface building at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy, which hosts a network of caverns shielded from cosmic radiation. The DARWIN observatory proposed to be built at Gran Sasso in the mid-2020s promises to be the ultimate dark-matter detector, probing the WIMP paradigm to its limit. CERN Courier, March 2017. More informations

CERN Courier, 23 July 2014

̶  So in your paper…?
̶  In our paper we explore the dark matter inverse problem. Namely, the capability of direct detection experiments to extract the underlying particle physics mediating the scattering of a DM particle.

The clean, red-berry zest of the rosé is no match for the way your mind dirties mine.

̶̶  And what are inverse problems?
̶  They’re problems where you begin with a solution and try to find the equation.
̶  I’m equation-blind, Marietta.
̶  But you’re a poet, and poets can see in the dark. Look, it’s Plato’s cave: The captives have to reconstruct the real world outside the cave on the basis of shadows cast by a fire. So they’re looking for the cause (the real objects) of the effects (the shadows) of the fire (the model). That’s an inverse problem.
̶  Sounds like one hell of a challenge!
̶  It is. Information is very limited, there’s no unique solution, and the problem is unstable—just the challenge for me!

Luminous, your gaze lights up mine: I feel the sparkle within me. Yes, Marietta, you refuse to let number disenchant the world: You are an artist. You do not condemn the world to be its own measure: You are a magician. You know that what can be penetrated by knowledge is not being: You are the lover I’ve been dreaming of, ever since that day in New Delhi.