Latest News from the LHC – Prof. Tara Shears

21 November 2014

On 15 October, my fellow Loreto College/sixth form students and I attended a lecture given by professor Tara Shears of the University of Liverpool. Prof. Shears addressed a lecture audience on the current state of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and its contribution to our current understanding of particle physics.

Latest News from the LHC

Prof. Shears began by introducing the concept of subatomic particles as we understand them today and how we try to categorize them and their behaviour with the current theory of particle physics known as the standard model.  She explained how the standard model, however brilliant of a theory it may be, is not perfect. It organises subatomic particles into two categories, quarks and leptons, and contains the particles associated with the fundamental forces in the universe.  However, one of the problems with the standard model, prof. Shears pointed out, was its lack of incorporation of the most important fundamental force on the scale of the universe: gravity.

Prof. Shears moved on to how physicists at the LHC in Geneva, Switzerland, are trying to address this and many more problems with the standard model and particle physics. Explaining how the LHC works, she talked about what was definitely its most famous discovery, the Higgs boson.  She spoke about its importance and how it was often described as the last piece to the puzzle yet only led to more questions being asked about the nature of particles themselves and the extent to which the standard model remains a viable theory.

Other models and theories for the behaviour of particles exist and were introduced by prof. Shears to the audience. She talked about theories such as supersymmetry, which attempts to explain the concept of dark matter by suggesting an equal but more massive counterpart of each subatomic particle exists which we can’t detect at the moment due to maximum energy limitations in the LHC. These theories all seemed strange but were befitting to the strange phenomena they sought to explain.

Prof. Shears concluded by lecturing about the ways such theories could perhaps be further investigated. She told of how the LHC has recently undergone a rigorous check of its powerful magnets and other components in preparation to step up its operating power. This could help in providing more energy to aid in the discovery of more massive particles perhaps including the theorised supersymmetric kind. There is a lot more still in store for the future of particle physics and improvements at the world’s largest particle accelerator are, step by step, bringing us closer.

Zain Anwar is a 17-year-old student of physics, further mathematics and chemistry from Loreto Sixth Form College in Hulme, Manchester. He is currently looking to study physics at university, and has a particular interest in the fields of particle physics and astrophysics, and the potential ways in which contrasting concepts in both could be unified.