When I am asked about my research interests I sometimes claim I am
a penguin hunter. But don't picture me spending my life on Antarctic's ice
fields. I am a physicist and I prefer the offices with central heating
you can find in research labs.
More accurately I am a particle physicist. I am working in huge
research lab trying to understand the intimate life of matter
and energy. We boost well-known particles like electrons and protons
to speeds close to the speed of light and collide them to create
Our goal is to be able to answer fundamental questions like
"what are we made of?" or
"how does it stick together?". More precisely
we would like to design a theory that explains how matter is built.
This theory and its consequences would then be taught in universities
to future generations of physicists, but also engineers, chemists, biologists,
That's about the main point of fundamental research: Understand the basics
and communicate them to people who can use this knowledge
to produce other knowledge, eventually inventing something really useful.
The latest gear advertised in geek's magazines in still based on quantum mechanics and
relativity, fundamental research made 100 years ago. What's coming next?
Back to our theory. Actually it already exists for more than 30 years.
It's called the "Standard Model" and it allows to make extremely
accurate predictions that have never been challenged by experiment.
A very good model indeed!
But yet it's wrong.
It's wrong because it contradicts Einstein's general relativity. It actually
describes all fundamental interactions all all known particles
(plus one yet to be discovered) except gravitation. The very gravitation that
binds the earth to the sun, that makes us life difficult
when we bring back loads of water bottles from the supermarket. Just imagine
a world without gravitation...
There are many other things to criticise in the Standard Model but I don't
want to go into too much details. In any case there seems to be a consensus
among physicists saying that the Standard Model is fine as long as you don't
go to too high energies. The Standard Model is a small part of a more general
theory. But this theory, this extension of the Standard Model, is still awaited
There are many candidate extensions available on the market. They are models
extending the Standard Model that are neither confirmed nor disprove
by experiment. Most of them predict the existence of new particles
that are not yet observed. The future LHC collider at CERN near Geneva
will try to find these new particles. The only thing we know for sure
is that it will be very difficult.