Blogging ICHEP 2010

A collective forum about the 35th edition of
the International Conference on High Energy Physics (Paris, July 2010)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

End of part two

All good things come to an end (some bad ones too) . Among the many duties of the organisers of a conference, the last one is to close the conference "officially", as well as all the peripheral activities... like this blog.

Since all conferences are as much a human adventure as a scientific one, there are a couple of thanks that I would like to address before switching the lights off.

First of all, thanks to the LHC, and all the 4 experiments, for having worked so hard to provide first results at the ICHEP conference. We hoped for these data since we thought of organising the conference in Paris, and we followed the ups and downs of the machine with mixed feelings. Would there be anything to show ? It turned out that all the collaborations worked very hard on the few months of data-taking, and obtained quite remarkable results (I am still impressed by the mu-mu spectra of ATLAS and CMS, and their nice resonance peaks).

Thanks also to the Tevatron, CDF and D0 for providing us with data that keep us wondering if something really new is just around the corner, trying to understand better the Bs-meson, pushing the limits on the Higgs boson... The race is not finished, and we should have rather interesting discussions across the pond very soon.

Thanks to all the technicians, secretaries, researchers (staff, post-docs, students) who helped in organising and running the conference. You cannot have a clear idea of how a conference of a thousand people will run... until it starts, with your fingers crossed, hoping for the best. Thanks to all of them, things ran very smoothly at each step (during the juggling of the parallel sessions, the ceremonial of the plenary talks, and even, yes, for the visit of N. Sarkozy).

Thanks to all my colleagues of this blog, who succeeded in giving a comprehensive (and sometimes very detailed) impression of ICHEP. I am quite convinced that people following the conference through the webcast and the website got a much more lively and interesting view of ICHEP thanks to this blog. Probably a lesson to remember for the next editions !

Thanks to the participants and speakers (which is approximately the same crew) for coming and taking part in this conference. Even though there were not many questions (in particular during the plenary talks), I caught many people at coffee breaks -- or during sessions -- in intense discussions not only about the food, the president, or the ICHEP bag, but also physics...

And finally, thanks to you, the readers of this blog, for your comments and suggestions all along this adventure. We hope that you enjoyed your time here. We definitely had a wonderful time sharing our two pence of knowledge with you...

"See" you in two years !

Monday, August 9, 2010

The calm after the storm

Marco, Barbara, Georg and Jester's summaries didn't leave much room for improvement. But here's my take - in the weeks and months following ICHEP, I'm sure we'll hear much more from the LHC. The collider's performance continues to improve (this weekend's milestone was the first inverse nanobarn delivered to the ATLAS and CMS experiments). Fermilab will continue to make the most of its last year(s?) of Tevatron data. New neutrino experiments will come online, existing ones will deliver some much-anticipated data, ditto for ground-based and space-based particle astrophysics experiments. And we'll all look forward to the next ICHEP, in 2012 in Melbourne, where we'll hear the latest in theoretical and experimental particle physics, see what the future looks like two years later, and....get a new ICHEP bag. As I've discovered, not only do they make excellent laptop carriers, but they also work pretty well as beach bags.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Very Last Summary

This is my last entry on this forum: my summary of the conference...better late than sorry :-)
  • Most Important Result: The Higgs exclusion limits from the Tevatron, of course. Anytime now we may get the answer to one of the most important question in particles physics. Not this time yet, but the thrill is on.
  • Most Intriguing Result: the forward-backward asymmetry of top decays at CDF has been updated to $15 \pm 5$ percent and lingers 2 sigma away from the SM prediction of approximately 5 percent.
  • Most Relieving Result: the poster from the HARP collaboration saying that the LSND anomaly was due to underestimated contamination of the beam with anti-electron neutrinos. If confirmed, that would solve the 10-years-long puzzle what went wrong in LSND.
  • Best Presentation: Nicolas Sarkozy. Gee, this guy knows how to talk, especially when contrasted with mumblings physicists. What fervor, what mimics, what gestures (ok, forget the jokes).
  • Best Presentation, seriously: Ben Kilminster, Higgs limits from the Tevatron. Maybe it's because when holding the remote he looks just like Colin Farrel in Bruges, or maybe because the presentation was clear, concise, and illuminating.
  • Worst Presentation: summary of BSM searches. Unfortunately, good experimental talks are rare. The cardinal sins are too much material, overcrowded slides, superficialness, no attempt at explaining presented results or methodology, and misleading theoretical interpretation.
  • Best Animation: the Planck satellite sweeping the sky while uncovering the temperature map. That was just lovely.
  • Best Music: given the number of cell phones in the audience, the competition is always fierce in this category. But if what I heard on the first day was really Genesis' Firth of Fifth, that obviously trumps anything.
  • Overall Impression: Even though and Paris is always worth a mass, the conference was pretty well organized, and I had fun at times, my opinion about the ICHEP series has not changed. Conferences with 1000+ participants are dinosaurs; more a brontosaurus rather than a T.Rex. Parallel sessions contain some interesting material, but the shortness of the talks and no time for discussions preclude any deeper insight. Plenary sessions on the other hand are typically hasty and overloaded summaries of what we already heard in the parallels. Alas, one needs an astereoid strike for dinosaurs to be replaced by more flexible maybe see you again in 2 years, upside down ;-)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Bet ? A Fourth Generation!

What picture should we draw of the quest for new phenomena after the presentation of a wealth of new results at the international conference on high-energy physics in Paris held last week ? I am speaking in particular of results coming from the experiments at the Tevatron and LHC, which are all studying hadron collisions in search for still unseen effects to both confirm (with the discovery of the Higgs boson) or break down (with the observation of Supersymmetry, new particles, extra dimensions, or still other effects) the present theoretical understanding of fundamental physics which the standard model provides us with.

In short my question today is, on which signal or phenomenon should we place our chips if we were to bet that the standard model is finally going to break down ?

I have my own answer. But first, before I give it to you, I feel compelled to be extra careful in a couple of ways.

The first way is dictated by personal reasons: I want to state it here very clearly, because I often get fingered as a rumour-monger or overhyper these days. I do NOT believe that the standard model is breaking down any time soon. I have a feeling that we will have to live with it for a while longer. I do not believe in Supersymmetry at arm's reach or anywhere else, nor in other exotics signals that we might see with present-day machines.

(And, since I am going to talk about something like that in particular below: I do not believe we are going to discover a fourth generation of fermions any time soon; I believe the present 2-sigmaish excesses of CDF and DZERO searches for a new t' quark are not due to a signal. If you really want my opinion... they are due to a coherent underestimation of QCD backgrounds, whose root is the use of the same methodologies by the two experiments!)

The second statement consists in my disclaimer, which I will state today as follows:

"The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and they do not reflect in any way those of the institutions to which he is affiliated. These include the CDF and CMS collaborations, as well as the Italian Institute of Nuclear Physics."

The above disclaimer is directed in particular at science reporters and other information recyclers... Which should not mistake me for an official source of the experiments in which I work! Of course it is a insufficient shield, but at least nobody can say I have not been clear on the matter.

Okay, now I feel more free to discuss in enthusiastic terms what I think is the single most exciting and promising deviation from standard model predictions that we have in our hands at present: a tentative signals for a fourth generation quark!

Can Fourth-Generation Quarks Really Exist ?

I have kept my eyes open on searches for a new quark since 2008, when a CDF analysis showed some intriguing high-mass events and a vague deviation of data from backgrounds. (The post linked above is rather well written if you need some introduction to the physics!)

After CDF performed the same analysis with doubled statistics, again finding an excess of high-mass events, I thought things were really interesting and I said so here.

In the meantime, there was an enlightening paper which came out in the Cornell Arxiv. Titled "Four Statements About The Fourth Generation", and signed by distinguished theorists, it explained clearly that contrarily to what one might think (or read in the Review of Particle Properties, which makes several assumptions in order to state that a fourth generation is excluded by electroweak measurements), a fourth generation of fermions is not ruled out by experimental measurements, and might actually be useful to explain the amount of CP violation we observe in particle decays. I summarized the paper's highlights in another post which I think is worthwhile reading, if you are interested in the topic.

Well, now DZERO has published the results of a quite similar analysis, and it looks like they too see some excess in the same kinematical distributions that CDF used to search for a fourth-generation quark. Again, this effect can be easily understood in terms of background fluctuations or a mismodeling of the high-mass tail of some of the contributing processes. Yet, the coincidence of the two search results warrants some additional thoughts. So let me first of all show what DZERO has just made public.

The DZERO Search For Fourth-Generation Quarks

DZERO has published, in time for ICHEP 2010, a new search for up-type fourth-generation quarks decaying to W bosons and down-type quarks. In a nutshell, the search considers events of the "lepton plus jets" type: the same kind of events on which all the most precise measurements of top quark physics at the Tevatron are based.

In the lepton-plus-jet topology, top quarks are produced in pairs, decay to a W and a b-quark, and then one W yields two hadronic jets, while the other decays to an electron-neutrino or muon-neutrino pair. This results in one neutrino in the final state, which adds some complexity to the reconstruction of the kinematics (the neutrino is undetected, and only its momentum components transverse to the beam direction can be inferred); however the advantage of having one high-momentum lepton in the event instead of purely hadronic jets is a more than adequate payoff. The events thus must feature a lepton, significant missing energy, and four hadronic jets: backgrounds then are small; the largest is the production of a W boson plus hadronic jets.

When searching for a fourth-generation quark, DZERO does exactly the same thing as in top searches: they assume that the t' quark is produced in pairs, and that it decays 100% of the time into a W boson and a quark (not necessarily a b-quark). The final state is the same as that of top searches, save for the fact that the larger mass of the t' grants a slightly tighter cut on the energy of the leading jet, a device which further reduces backgrounds.

In the end, the data allow the reconstruction of a tentative t' mass, assuming that each event is of the t'-pair-production kind. A kinematic fit searches for the combination of jet assignments to the decay partons which best matches the hypothesized process. One thus obtains a histogram of reconstructed t' mass:

In the figure, you can see with different colours how the predicted amount of events coming from different processes (top pair production in red, W+jets production in green, and multi-jet production in grey) distribute in the reconstructed t' mass. The data is shown by black points with error bars, and it matches very well the predicted shape of backgrounds. An example of what contribution would be given by a 300-GeV t' quark in the histogram is shown in yellow. Tiny, but not entirely undetectable. Mind you: the vertical axis has a logarithmic scale!

What is maybe not so immediate to discern from the figure is the fact that while backgrounds have a wide distribution in the reconstructed t' mass, the signal of a t' quark if present would populate a narrower region: the one around the real mass of the quark. This is entirely the point of having constructed this kinematic variable -discriminating signal and background.

A second discriminating variable is the sum of all transverse energies of the observed final state objects: jets, lepton, and missing energy. This is the so-called "Ht". Ht is large for processes that involve the production of massive states, and so it is a good means to separate t' production from the top and W+jets background. Below you can see how the data compares to backgrounds as a function of Ht; the color coding is the same as above.

DZERO performs a fit in the two-dimensional plane of the t' mass and Ht to extract the possible amount of signal present in the data. This is performed as a function of the unknown value of t' mass: since the distributions of reconstructed mass and Ht of the signal depend on the true t' mass, several fits are performed in series, to extract a limit curve which depends on that parameter; the curve is investigated by points, at 25-GeV intervals in the unknown t' mass.

The result of the fits is displayed in the figure below. The t' mass (this time the "true" one, not the reconstructed tentative mass of the kinematic fits) is on the horizontal axis, and on the vertical axis is the production rate of the fourth-generation quark pair. The black line shows the theoretical prediction for the rate, which falls quickly as the t' mass increases: fewer events are expected in the 4.3 inverse femtobarn dataset of analyzed collisions as the t' mass increases, because the higher the mass, the more energy is required to produce the heavy quark.

The theoretical curve of the signal cross section can be compared with the red curve, which shows the upper limit (at 95% confidence level) extracted from the data. The red curve lies below the black one for low masses: a light t' quark (of masses below 296 GeV) is excluded by the data, because it would have been copiously produced in the Tevatron collisions, and would have stuck out in the two tested distributions. For higher mass values, the limit is above the curve: these mass values are still possible.

Now observe the blue and yellow band: these describe what rates of the searched quark DZERO expected to limit, as a function of t' mass, given the amount of analyzed data they had and the analysis strategy. The blue band shows 1-sigma variations in the expected limit, and the yellow band shows the range of 2-sigma variations. In practice, the bands pictorially explain what "on average" would result from the search, if no signal were present in the data.

Now, the red curve stays on the edge of the 2-sigma band for masses above 300 GeV. What this means is that DZERO has a slight excess of events which distribute like t' production ones in their data. Not awfully exciting, I'll admit. But now compare the curve to the one found by CDF just a few months ago (the analysis which I have discussed in detail here, as already mentioned):

CDF found a strikingly similar result! True, CDF had more sensitivity, so their limit is slightly better; but the behavior of CDF data and DZERO data is indeed quite similar. A fortuitous coincidence between two 2-sigma results ? That is surely a possibility; another one is that the two experiments, which rely on similar simulation tools, both underestimated the high-energy production of top or W+jets production events.

Yet a third possibility remains on the table: that both CDF and DZERO are seeing the first hint of pair production of a fourth-generation quark. The amount of data of the two experiments would be insufficient to see a clear signal yet, so the first hint is just that they both obtain a mass limit well below their expectations.

Now, suspend temporarily your disbelief and consider. If a 400-GeV t' quark exists, who is going to discover it first ? For sure CDF and DZERO with twice as much statistics (which they almost already have in their bags) would be likely to make those 2-sigma excesses become close to 3-sigma ones. Maybe adding other search channels would further increase their reach; but they would probably be unable to conclusively discover the quark.

Instead, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean... CMS and ATLAS would be very fast in finding conclusive evidence for such a quark! The reason is that producing a 400-GeV t' quark at LHC is much, much easier, given the over 3.5 times higher energy of the LHC collisions. The cross section at the LHC is of several picobarns, which means that well before collecting an inverse femtobarn of collisions, the CERN experiments will find the new quark!

Now, let me say something personal, deep down this long post. I have always said that, despite I have been working more on the CMS experiment at CERN than on the CDF experiment at the Tevatron since 2008, my heart still beats stronger on the Tevatron side... That is still true in a sense: CDF is such a fantastic achievement for science that I will always be proud of having contributed to it for 18 years (and counting). But if you ask me which experiment I would prefer to see discovering a t' quark... I would say CMS!

The reason ? CMS and ATLAS deserve to become the focus of the next decade of high-energy physics research. Too much has been invested in human resources for these experiments to fall short of being a total success. I would love it if the adventure of the LHC experiments into the unknown were to start with a t' discovery, early next year! It would be just great!

... But now please go back and read my original disclaimer once more!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Things you see and things you don't see...

It's already more than a week ago that I saw my first president at a physics conference. Doesn't time fly? There were so many things to see (or not) during ICHEP that it really stands out from other conferences I have been to. Hey, after all it was the first real big one with first real LHC results, after Physics at the LHC at DESY, which didn't have quite as many participants. Last year, at the Lepton Photon conference, the main conclusion after every talk was: "We are looking forward to results from the LHC!" It's great to see that those times are over and that the community is buzzing over limits and cuts and simulations and candidates!
Of course what we didn't see was the Higgs. Many people thought we would (which meant we also saw more journalists than ever before at a physics conference), and now the next big question is: what's next? Will the Tevatron keep running for another three to four years? Will that mean it will see the Higgs? From what I hear, that's not a given, but it'll certainly be an exciting time.
Some people also saw the film Sunshine during the nuit des particules at the Grand Rex, and at the time time saw a lot of the actress Irene Jacob - that dress, and a story about balls of fire in a kitchen will go down in particle physics history.
Now it's time to see what's next - for me, that's the global Particle Physics Photo Walk next Saturday. More than 200 amateur photographers from around the world will get an exclusive look behind the scenes of five physics labs (KEK, CERN DESY, Fermilab, TRIUMF) and we are very much looking forward to see our labs through their eyes.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Summary of personal impressions

In looking back at ICHEP, what are my personal overall impressions? The conference was very well organised (with the minor exception of the dinner), the venue was great (as were the conference bag and its contents), the President felt obliged to attend -- so it was clearly a good and successful conference overall.

It was also pretty big (for a physics conference, not in the greater scheme of such things), in fact almost too big for my taste; perhaps it's just that as a theorist I'm naturally more introverted, but I find it difficult to meet people and start a conversation when there's a huge crowd. Smaller more focussed conferences are probably better for discussions; there was also a notable lack of questions in the plenary talks -- perhaps also a symptom of excessive size.

On the other hand, the huge size means a very diverse set of speakers, which enables one to learn about all the things that have recently gone on in the wider field. Since the arXiv is getting so vast that it is well-nigh impossible to even read the titles of all papers that get posted to the hep-* sections (much less the abstracts, to say nothing of the papers -- even assuming that one had the exceptionally broad knowledge base to be able to make sense of all of them), this overview is perhaps the most important function of a large conference like ICHEP.

And the things to be learnt were of great interest: CMS and ATLAS have "rediscovered" the Standard Model; that in itself is no surprise, but the speed at which the LHC experiments have managed to get there is amazing at least for this theorist. The arrival of the LHC hasn't rung the death-knell for the Tevatron quite yet, though: while rumours of a Higgs discovery turned out to have no foundation in fact (a 2σ deviation is hardly a basis even for a rumour), CDF and D0 combined could exclude a much larger mass region for the Higgs, further narrowing down the regions where it can hide. Also from the Tevatron comes the like-sign dimuon charge asymmetry that may be the first sign of new physics if it is confirmed by another experiment. Away from the big colliders, the neutrino physicists and cosmologists are also doing impressive work and chipping away at the Standard Model's plinth. The representation of my own field of research was perhaps not optimally suited to the audience, since the parallel sessions on lattice QCD were not very well-attended except by the lattice people and the plenary talk concentrated on work that would likely have enraptured a nuclear physics audience, but probably not a HEP one. Overall, I got the impression that the experimentalists take ICHEP much more serious as a forum than we theorists do -- there were a lot of new experimental results presented for the first time at ICHEP, whereas most of the theoretical results had been presented at other conferences or been posted on the arXiv earlier.

Blogging a conference as part of a group rather than on my own blog was an interesting new experience; for a lone blogger, ICHEP would have been way too big!