Stephen Hawking Says Finding The "God Particle" Made Physics More Boring

By Gabrielle Jonas on November 21, 2013 3:13 PM EST

Stephen Hawking, Before He Became Bored
Now that a fundamental question of particle physics has been settled, cosmologist Stephen Hawking has physics ennui. (Photo: www.stephenhawking.com)

A leading particle physicist who won a bet  with Stephen Hawking about the existence of the God particle, said Thursday that his friend is wrong about the implications for the field of physics, as well.

Hawking's comment is a suprising one, coming as it does from a cosmologist whose job it is to help solve the mysteries of the universe. Physicist Stephen Hawking said recently that proof of the so-called God particle, which netted two of its founders a Nobel Prize in October, rendered the field of physics less interesting, The Guardian reported recently. Yet in the same speech, the Emeritus Lucasian Professor for Cambridge said he is hoping for evidence of a theory that would help unify the forces in the universe.

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Speaking at the Science Museum in London, Hawking, who has popularized cosmology in best-selling books, said physics would be "far more interesting" if particle physicists had been unable to find the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Meyrin, Switzerland. But in 2012, particle physicists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert did find unequivocal evidence for the existence of the Higgs Boson, a sub-atomic particle that could explain why matter has mass and therefore why the universe has structure at all.

"Physics would be far more interesting if it had not been found," said Hawking.  If the boson's existence remained unproven, since being postulated more than 50 years ago, Hawking said, physicists would have had to come up with different theories to explain the universe, suggesting that for Hawking, forging and testing a theory is even more exciting than proving it.

Yet, in the same speech, Hawking said he hoped a particle accelerator would ultimately yield the first evidence for M-theory, which would explain the gravitational force and the atomic forces in one fell swoop. "There is still hope that we see the first evidence for M-theory at the LHC particle accelerator," said Hawking. He is also hoping the accelerator will yield proof of the theory of Supersymmetry, which postulates particles such as electrons, quarks and photons are paired with invisible heavier "superpartners".

Dr. Gordon Kane, director emeritus of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics at the University of Michigan, and Distinguished University Professor there, told International Science Times that discovery of the bison should be exhilarating to physicists, not a downer.

"The discovery of the Higgs boson implies that we are entering an era of huge theoretical excitement in particle physics and cosmology," said Dr. Kane, "and progress toward deeper insight into the underlying laws of nature." Dr. Kane, who had won a $100 bet with Hawking as to whether the existence of the boson would ever be proven, added, "A Higgs boson points toward how to proceed in detail toward understanding and predicting these underlying laws of nature and their theories, including string/M theories, just as envisaged in Hawking' and Leonard Mlodinow's recent book, The Grand Design."

Particle physicists fervently hope the String/M theories will bring them to the Holy Grail of physics since Einstein: the unification of all the forces, including gravity on a large scale as we know it, with gravity in the quantum world, where distances are so minuscule that part of what's usually used by the
Standard Model of conventional mathematics is inadequate to the task of describing them. But Planck mathematics can describe them, using extended strings instead of points for scale. The Planck length measures about a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter. Supersymmetry allows for string theory, because it postulates that every fermion, or particle that comprises matter, is paired with a bison, or particle that
transmits a force. 

"The string/M theories address most or all of the outstanding issues in understanding our universe, and do so simultaneously," Dr. Kane said. One important example is that a supersymmetric theory with the measured masses of the Higgs boson and one of the quarks, the top quark, automatically stabilizes the vacuum of our universe. Without the discovery of the Higgs boson, we would be trapped in a quagmire of ad hoc unattractive remedies."

Even Hawking conceded that, "the discovery of supersymmetric partners for the known particles would revolutionize our understanding of the universe." Indeed, Hawking's closing comments belied disappointment that one of the mysteries of the universe had been solved. "Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet," he told his audience. "Try to make sense of what you see and hold on to that childlike wonder about what makes the universe exist."

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