US vs. Euro: Pheno, you know?

09Jul07

Bee at Backreaction (always a great read) recently posted a note about the LHC Theory Initiative in which she mentions the difference between “innovative” US phenomenology versus “novel” European phenomenology. In the comments section, Rae Ann made the excellent point that there may be too much emphasis on competition versus collaboration.

(If you have no idea we mean by ‘phenomenology,’ try reading this explanation in six acts.)

Based on my own very limited experiences with either community, it seems that American phenomenologists tend to be inclined toward model-building while their European counterparts take more interest in “solid calculations.” Of course there are fantastic American physicists who can calculate and very creative European model builders — it is just that as a whole, each continent seems to have their specialty. (The major motivation for me to spend two years abroad was to try to learn from each of these academic cultures.)

I’ve heard the difference between US and EU particle physics expressed in different ways. For example, the US may be prone to chasing fads while the EU instead continues to “plod along.” Or the US is keen on sexy ideas that sell (new models) while the EU instead values solid fundamentals/foundations (colliders/calculations). This latter perspective can be applied to US an European basketball teams in the recent past.

((Team USA, which “warmed up” by performing spectacular dunks for the crowd, lost in the 2006 FIBA semifinals to Greece — a team which, instead, spent the pre-game warming shooting free throws.))

Indeed, the [US] LHC Theory Initiative provides support — including postgraduate fellowships — to American researchers who are keen on bridging the gap between US and EU expertise. To quote U. Bauer on the initiative (as quoted in Bee’s post),

[W]ith the Large Hadron Collider — the world’s largest particle accelerator — coming online in the next year or sooner, Baur said, the US cannot afford to fall behind.

Being rather naive about these things, it is not clear to me why the US is in danger of “falling behind” because it tends to research one aspect of particle phenomenology rather than the other. It’s one thing to want to get in on the action where it’s hot, but surely model-building will also play an important role in the Terascale era? Perhaps there is an implicit fear of some sort of “collider physics brain-drain” to Europe that would weaken the US bid for the ILC?

The international collaborations at SLAC and the Tevatron have been very successful. It’s not clear to me what is tangibly lost by moving the “cutting edge” collaboration to the other side of the Atlantic and not having as storng a “collider physics/NN….NLO calculation” culture in the US.

There are, of course, local economic benefits and academic outreach benefits associated with having an in-house experiment with in-house experts. But these are more along the lines of the “general good of the public” points mentioned in the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report and have less to do with whether American phenomenologists ought to shift to collider physics versus model building.

Again, I’m rather naive about these things and apologise in advance for oversimplifications/misrepresentations.

While on the topic of phenomenology: I think someone should really make a “particle phenomenology” song along the tune of ma-na-ma-nah. Maybe one could call it “phe-no-me-nah.” Muppets should definitely be involved. (Some physicists lend themselve better to muppeteering than others, I think.)

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