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CSS Colloquium: Sophie Ritson, University of Melbourne

Something from Nothing: ‘Non-discovery’ and Transformations in High Energy Experimental Physics at the Large Hadron Collider

Info about event


Wednesday 12 October 2022,  at 14:15 - 15:45


1531-215 (D3)

After a discovery claim is established, the world is reported to be different; by contrast, when something is lost which was never had, seemingly nothing has changed. Drawing on interviews with experimental physicists involved in the search for, and (thus far) non-discovery of, supersymmetry (SUSY) at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), this talk will explore transformations in epistemic strategies. In particular, the talk explores how the absence of direction in research strategies, following the negative results at the LHC, is transforming the epistemic strategies of experimental particle physicists in the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC.

Prior to the start of data collection, many in the high energy physics community strongly expected that evidence for SUSY would be observed at the LHC. To date, these expectations have not been realised. I will show that whilst the negative results have not transformed the ontology of particle physics, the violated expectations have resulted in transformations in epistemic strategies away from targeted searches for evidence of SUSY (and other beyond standard model physics) to attempts to find evidence for ugly results and ‘unconceived alternatives’ (Stanford, 2006). I will focus on one such example: the attempts to measure the self-coupling of the Higgs boson. Stanford (2019) has argued that, due to conservative attitudes, today’s scientific communities are “less effective” than their predecessors “in developing fundamentally novel theoretical conceptions of nature in the first place” (p.3931). The current situation in particle physics makes for an opportunity to examine the creativity of the highly collaborative experimental particle physics community, where the transformation in epistemic strategies indicates direct attempts to find evidence for ‘unconceived alternatives’, or for disconfirming and “ugly” experimental results, that could provide fundamentally novel concepts.

The colloquium is a hybrid event. Sophie Ritson will present on Zoom, and there will be opportunity to see the presentation and ask questions in the auditorium. Please inquire about the zoom link. Coffee, tea, cakes and fruit will be served before the colloquium @ 2 pm.