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A busy week for science

Rolf Heuer on a week that included BICEP2's announcement on gravitational waves, Moriond, joint Tevatron-LHC results and a new director for TRIUMF


It was great to see science on the front pages of newspapers around the world this week as the BICEP2 collaboration announced the observation of gravitational waves. This is a fantastic result which, if confirmed, is not only yet another feather in the cap of Albert Einstein, but also the first step in a new and exciting chapter in the story of physics. Gravitational waves could point the way to reconciliation for quantum mechanics and relativity, the two foundations of 20th century physics. It’s a story in which particle physics will undoubtedly have a role to play, and the fact that it made headlines around the world, every bit as big as those for the Higgs discovery, is a strong sign that science is finding its proper place in society.

Of course, gravitational waves were not the only science story of the week. In our field, it’s the Moriond conference that has been making the news. Among the great results from the LHC experiments, further tying down the properties of the Higgs boson and measuring its ever more rare couplings to other particles, was a story of collaboration that goes to the heart of particle physics.  Particle physicists compete and collaborate in equal measure, so it was only a matter of time before Tevatron experiments at Fermilab and LHC experiments at CERN combined their measurements to produce more precise results. That’s exactly what was reported on Wednesday when the most precise measurement of the top quark mass was presented at Moriond, based on ATLAS, CDF, CMS and DZero data. 

Collaborative competition is the name of the game. Competition between experimental collaborations and labs spurs us on, but collaboration such as this underpins the global particle physics endeavour and is essential in advancing our knowledge of the universe we live in. We can now use this new precise value of the top-quark mass to probe the quantum connections between the top quark, the Higgs particle and the W boson, to explore predictions for the stability of the Higgs field and its effects on the evolution of the universe, and to look for inconsistencies in the Standard Model that could point to new physics.

Finally, this week TRIUMF announced its new director, and I was delighted to learn that they’ve appointed Jonathan Bagger, who is well known in the field not only for his science but also for his roles on the International Linear Collider Steering Committee and the US High Energy Physics Advisory Panel. Both TRIUMF and Jonathan have my congratulations!