Vatican symposium

Pier Oddone with Werner Arber, president of the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences, who shared the 1978 Nobel Prize for the discovery of restriction enzymes and their application to problems of molecular genetics.

I am attending a symposium titled “Subnuclear Physics: Past, Present and Future” organized at the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences. It is the first time that a meeting on particle physics has taken place at the Pontifical Academy. The venue is a villa built in the 1500s inside the Vatican gardens, quite different from our usual particle physics meeting locations. Newspapers in Italy have picked up on the meeting with the usual sensationalistic headlines, such as: “The Vatican calls on physicists to understand the Superworld.” The discussions at the symposium, of course, are more modest and down to earth.

Preparing for the meeting has been an opportunity for me to reflect again on the huge contributions that Fermilab has made to our understanding of physics. I presented highlights of this work as well as a very compressed description of our future program – many results to make us all proud of our history and optimistic about the future.

In looking over the last few decades, the progress made in our understanding of the world around us has been remarkable. We have gone from the fog of the 1960s to the very sharp questions our field asks today. Our theoretical understanding has placed every experiment we have ever done using accelerators into a common framework. This framework allows us to calculate the foundation of events against which our search for new physics takes place. It also tells us the sensitivity to new physics that we might expect.

In conference after conference this year, the biggest piece in our understanding is still missing: new physics from the LHC. The performance of the LHC this year has been outstanding with six times more data than was considered likely – if we were lucky – a year ago. This level of data brings the LHC squarely into symmetry breaking territory. There were no new results presented at the Pontifical Academy symposium beyond those that were presented at the Lepton-Photon meeting in August. We are impatient to fill in the missing puzzle piece, but most likely we will have to wait until the set of winter conferences next March to get a new batch of results.