Nobel-Winning Physicist Worried About 100 Chocolate Coin Wager Over New Particles

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum on at

Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek was optimistic back in 2012. After all, he’d just won a wager after scientists had just announced their Higgs-Boson discovery at the Large Hadron Collider particle physics experiment in Switzerland. He made another bet—but he doesn’t feel as confident today.

Wilczek made his new bet with Swedish physicist Tord Ekelöf. The terms were simple: If scientists discover evidence of a new kind of “superpartner” particle at the LHC by 2019, he’d win 100 chocolate Nobel Prizes. If not, he’d have to pay up.

“The LHC has already done a lot of the exploration that it will have done by the end of the terms of the bet,” Wilczek told Gizmodo over Skype. “The window of opportunity is closing pretty rapidly, I’m afraid.”

Supersymmetry, or SUSY, is the theory at the center of the bet. Essentially, some of particle physics’ woes and theories currently fixed with sellotape would make a whole lot more sense if we found an entirely new set of particles. These particles are also candidates for the elusive dark matter, the stuff that makes up most of the mass of the universe whose identity scientists are still unsure of.

Superpartners link the two larger groups of particles, bosons and fermions. SUSY says that every boson, like the force-carrying photons and gluons, would have a complementary, heavier fermion. Every fermion, like quarks and electrons, would have a complimentary, heavier boson. They’d have silly names like squarks, photinos and Winos, the W-boson’s superpartner (not your barbecue-ruining uncle).

Despite a tantalising but ultimately unfounded hint last year, LHC physicists have not found any superpartners. That disappointed some physicists recently interviewed by the New York Times, and the lost hope has been compounded by the continued lack of discovery in dark matter experiments. But it’s possible that the LHC just doesn’t have the energy to create these heavy superpartners.

Wilczek thought the physics community would need to be very lucky for the LHC to find evidence of supersymmetry by 2020. And, while physicists are always hunting for new ways to spot particles in their data, it will be several decades (maybe) before a new collider can hunt for higher energy particles. Things certainly aren’t hopeless, they just aren’t happening as fast as some might like. Ekelöf did not respond to a request for comment by publishing time, but I will update the post when I hear back.

As for the chocolate coins, “you get them at the Nobel museum,” said Wilczek. I asked him how they tasted. “Let’s put it this way—it’s not [the museum’s] selling point.”


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