Two years after it took some richly deserved downtime after hunting down the Higgs boson, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is back online and shooting for the holy grail of quantum physics — supersymmetry, fondly known as Susy. The idea was conceived in the Eighties to account for certain blurs in the standard model of physics, which explains all particles and forces of the universe except gravity. The last, a matter of considerable gravitas, has its own theory — that of general relativity. The blurs are beautifully smoothed over with the assumption that every particle in the sensible universe is mirrored by a much heavier particle that cannot be sensed, whose presence is inferred only by its gravitational effect.
After much inferring and conferring, physicists who support the theory agree that this “dark matter” could account for 96 per cent of the universe. The hugeness of that figure adds psychological pressure to the need to discover dark matter. If it remains elusive, the physics of the last three decades will totter and the edifice will have to be propped against a new theory. This would produce an unpleasant churning process in quantum physics. The present run of the LHC could be the last-ditch effort to find Susy.
During its furlough, the particle-smashing mojo of the LHC received multiple power-ups. It now has the energies to create the heavy particles that Susy is made of. Quantum breath is bated in anticipation of the discovery of the gluino, the doppelgänger of the gluon, which holds atomic nuclei together. To save the standard model, the LHC has stepped boldly into the universe’s heart of darkness. It is an epic quest in which failure only marks a new beginning, and night is unfailingly the harbinger of dawn.