Physics crunch: Bang goes the theory

THE past few years have been a boom time for theoretical physicists. With few experiments to constrain them, they have been free to explore. The result is a cornucopia of awesome ideas: hidden dimensions, shadow particles and an infinity of…

THE past few years have been a boom time for theoretical physicists. With few experiments to constrain them, they have been free to explore. The result is a cornucopia of awesome ideas: hidden dimensions, shadow particles and an infinity of parallel universes, to name but three.

Yet our understanding of the universe is stuck in a bit of a rut. Even the Higgs boson was merely the final hurrah in a chain of discoveries starting in the 1960s.

So it is good to see that the baton is being passed back to the experimentalists to start the next phase of our effort to understand the cosmos.

This month, the Planck satellite will report long-awaited results about the early universe. Next year we will step up the search for tiny ripples in space-time. And the LHC has only just started its work.

This changing of the guard is exciting but nerve-wracking. To put it bluntly, it must deliver. Physics is enjoying a period of enormous public support. But if there is no appreciable progress, it is hard to see anyone stumping up the cash to build an even bigger particle smasher or better space probes. We must hope the theories stand up to the test.

This article appeared in print under the headline “Bang goes the theory”

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