Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Higgs at last?

So 2011 runs out, and Europe and North America have shut down for the holiday season. Before CERN, its physicists and staff all left to make merry over Christmas and the new year, they called a press conference to tell us whether Santa had indeed visited CERN this year, and left a Higgs boson in their stocking. The upshot is that although it's too early to break out the champagne, it would not be unwise to place orders for next year.

The press conference announced that both the Atlas and the CMS experiments at CERN have seen signatures of the Higgs at a mass about 125 GeV. While the statistical significance of the data exceeds 2 sigma, it has not reached the 5 sigma level at which a new particle is announced (hence the postponement of the bubbly). However it is noteworthy that the signature of the Higgs is seen in both experiments, in two different decay modes ( Higgs to two photons, and Higgs to four leptons via Z, Zbar) and at essentially the same mass. It is also important that the Higgs boson which is seen is consistent with the standard model, but is seen at a mass which does not rule out supersymmetry. Santa may break out the goodies for our supersymmetric friends, next year, after all. It will be worth the wait.

On the flip side, this will have been the slowest Eureka ever.(The top quark was like this, but every pimple on the distributions wasn't under world-wide discussion instantly, those days). On the other hand, do we really want to see 3000 physicists jump out of their bath tubs in the altogether? The Armani suits (or whatever, we're no experts) of the webcast were better. That was also the slowest webcast ever, but we won't spoil the holiday season by complaining.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Arab winter, breaking dawn in Myanmar, and what of back home?

The Arab spring has given way to the winter of discontent, especially in Egypt. The military which looked like a resonable interim solution after Hosni Mubarak's forced departure, had to be forced into vacating the central space occupied by them. Meanwhile, the elections have given an alarming fraction of the vote to not just middle of the road Islamists, but to ultra-conservative parties. Die-hard optimists are still hopeful that secular elements will win the day, but a period with Egyptian versions of Khomeini might turn out to be inevitable. Well, who said democracy was an easy solution?

On a brighter note, the military junta seems to be loosening its hold on Myanmar. The charismatic Aung San Suu Kyi is contesting the elections with her National League of Democracy party, and, incidentally, exchanging bright smiles with Hillary Clinton. Cynics claim all this is in aid of Myanmar's pursuit of the Asean chair, and will soon be turned off since this objective is now achieved. However, as all despots from Saddam to Mubarak have had to notice, it's not so easy to put the genie back in the bottle.

Meanwhile, back home, the Indian government seems to be trying to do just that. The idea of trying to have guidelines for web-content is not bad in itself, but surely it is better to have this administered by a self-regulatory body? A Web Council of India, like the Press Council of India, seems to be a better idea than the government getting into the act. That might be as self-defeating as the government trying to run an airline. Is anyone listening?

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.