As we near the Large Hadron Collider’s (LHC) maiden relativistic collision later this year, speculation and excitement continues to mount. There are a host of possibilities as to what we may observe from the most powerful, focused collisions ever carried out in a laboratory environment. Fundamentally, the search for the Higgs boson will be taken to a new level, but there may be a few surprises for the particle physicists analysing the detector data. What if the LHC uncovers an alternative to the Higgs boson? What if the “standard model” of quantum theory isn’t to a universal standard? Putting the Higgs boson to one side, forgetting the exciting possibility of a micro-black hole (and confirmation of Hawking Radiation) and leaving the production of wormholes and stranglets in the “unlikely” drawer, what possibility intrigues me the most? The discovery of microscopic, curled-up dimensions the LHC may unravel as it focuses its energy on scales previously unthinkable…
The LHC is designed to accelerate beams of protons at relativistic speeds around a circular particle accelerator at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. There has been a huge, organized effort to distract from the amazing science that lies in store for us, focusing on extreme and vanishingly unlikely negative impacts the LHC
might won’t have (and yes, the Swiss dairy cattle will continue to happily graze without being sucked into a black hole long after “switch-on”). All going well, we’ll start seeing the results from the LHC toward the end of this year, giving us a unique and historic peek into the innermost workings of our Universe. Theorized particles, new physics and new dimensions are on the discovery menu and the LHC physicists must feel like they are approaching the apex of scientific ingenuity, about to revolutionize our view on the fabric of space-time forever. The best thing is, particle physicists have hopes for what they are about to discover, but there’s a possibility that previously unknown physics will surface, causing a stir amongst the scientific community.
Veronica Sanz of Boston University and York University in Ontario, Canada is one such excited physicist. She is pinning her hopes on probing beyond the smallest scales imaginable, possibly injecting energy into microscopic, curled-up extra dimensions. These dimensions are predicted by string and brane theory, so should the signature of tiny dimensions be seen, some of the more extreme theories on superstrings and alternate universes will have a more stable footing. However, there’s a twist. Sanz points out that an ‘observation’ of this extra dimension may in fact be a hologram of some other complex Universal computation. “While the LHC may uncover what appears to be an extra dimension, it could really be a hologram of some more complicated physics theory,” she says.
For example, this complicated physics theory may operate through several dimensions and manifest itself as a three dimensional hologram as seen in our four (three space and one time) dimensional world. Physicists will have to be at the top of their game to recognise whether the LHC is in fact uncurling the theorized extra dimensions or whether they are actually seeing a holographic manifestation of something more complex. Our current understanding of the Universe involves four fundamental forces, the strong force, weak force, electromagnetic force and gravitational force. However, the Standard Model ignores gravity as it is very weak and doesn’t “fit” with the theory. Obviously something is off-kilter, more work needs to be done before a complete understanding of the fundamental forces can be arrived at.
However, even if the “gravity situation” (shhhhh, we don’t need to mention that again) is ignored and the Standard Model is accepted, there is still one gaping hole in the theory… the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson was pretty much why the LHC was built (watch the great video presentation by Brian Cox for a clear explanation). Basically, if discovered, the Standard Model will be “proven” and we can all have a celebratory pint in a nice little pub at the mouth of the River Rhône on the banks of Lake Geneva. But it probably isn’t that simple.
The Higgs boson is a massive particle that should be out there. There is some detailed theory as to why it should be there, but say if the nature of our universe has other ideas? The Higgs boson gives matter its mass, plus it explains why relativistic particles effectively have no (or very little) mass. What if nature has a different way of giving matter mass? What if these extra dimensions, or the holographic manifestation of a deeper space-time ‘calculation’ provides mass? Co-investigator, Johannes Hirn from Yale University agrees with this possibility, “For all we know, extra dimensions may be nature’s way of computing the masses of particles.”