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Scientific Controversies: The Goddamn Particle

Theoretical cosmologist Sean Carroll, experimental particle physicist Melissa Franklin, and astrophysicist Janna Levin clarify one of the major scientific achievements of the last 50 years—the discovery of the Higgs particle at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva by the scientists at the CERN particle physics laboratory.

The physicist Leon Lederman had famously seen "The Goddamn Particle" as the apt title for the Higgs boson, citing "its villainous nature and the expense it is causing." However, the Higgs particle is now commonly referred to as "The God Particle," because of the answers it provides to long-standing scientific problems, and the crucial insights it gives into the nature of matter and the universe. The trio discuss the importance of the discovery of the Higgs boson, the new trajectories of research it opens up into string theory, dark matter, and black holes, and the future plans for the LHC.

Also featured is a pre-panel chat with Franklin and Carroll as they sit down with Pioneer Works' resident Mathew Putman, co-founder and CEO of Nantronics Imaging, at the Clocktower studio, and expand on the relationship between experimental and theoretical physicists.

The panel was recorded on 29 April, 2015, as part of the Pioneer Works series Scientific Controversies hosted by Janna Levin.

Sean Carroll is a Research Professor of Physics at Caltech, specializing in dark energy and general relativity. He is the author of The Particle at the Edge of the Universe and From Eternity to Here. He has been a contributor to the physics blog Cosmic Variance, and has published in scientific journals and magazines such as Nature, Seed, Sky & Telescope, and New Scientist.

Melissa Franklin is a Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics at Harvard University. She works on studies of hadron collisions produced by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory with the Collider Detector Facility (CDF) and the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Jana Levin is an astrophysicist and writer. She has contributed to an understanding of black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of spacetime. She is the author of the popular-science book How the Universe Got Its Spots and a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which won the PEN/Bingham prize. Levin was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2012.


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Scientific Controversies


What Is Quantum Reality? Does Time Exist? Will Dying Black Holes Explode in Firewalls? Major scientific discoveries can disrupt the traditional order, leaving scientists adrift in concepts that resist familiar intuitions and beliefs. Of the new ideas that emerge, some will be wrong and some will be right. Honest and open scientific controversy helps disentangle one from the other. Eventually, one side of a debate grows in strength and finds confirmation in experiments, while the other atrophies. But both sides of a controversy contribute to the breakthrough of actual discovery – when the utterly abstract barges into the realm of the concrete. This series celebrates that passionate spirit of scientific debate. For the Pioneer Works series Scientific Controversies, we take a look at profound topics at the frontier of physics that have inspired unresolved debates.