Collider Physics for Theory Students


This is another post on my “farewell tour” (which will last until I can properly say farewell). I thought it was important to write one more literature guide since my QFT and SUSY guides seemed reasonably popular.

For the first time since the deep inelastic experiments of the ’60s the high energy physics community is approaching an energy frontier where we can expect the unexpected. The hep-ph community is shifting back to focusing on experiment-driven interpretation of collider data as we approach the era of the LHC.

This is all very exciting, but thirty years of top-down model building has left the community somewhat ill-prepared to teach its graduate students how to connect with experiments. Consider, for example, the large number of SUSY books/reviews out there versus the number collider physics books/reviews. It’s even harder to find reviews targeted to theory students rather than our experimental colleagues.

As a side project, I’ve started typing up a set of collider-physics-for-theorists notes for the local hep-ph group. Along the way, I’ve found a few nice sets of references that I think would be useful for any beginning graduate student with an eye on the LHC.


As a properly-trained theory student, you probably have more than enough technical background to navigate the literature. The main adjustment is learning to speak the same language as experimentalists. Before you start, however, you should make sure that you have a solid understanding of quantum field theory, in particular perturbative QCD. You should be familiar with the parton model and deep inelastic scattering at the level of Peskin’s book, though more basic books like Halzen and Martin might be enough to get caught up in a pinch.

Canonical Resources

  • Prof. Han’s Collider Physics Review (hep-ph/0507097, updated version here). This has been the main review for phenomenologists for some time now. It hits all the right topics and is at the right level for hep-ph students. Start here and fill in the details as you need them.
  • Prof. Wittich’s TASI08 lecture, “colliders for theorists.” Unfortunately, the TASI08 audiovisual link appears to be broken at the moment, so you might have to wait for the proceedings to come out.
  • Prof. Arkani-Hamed’s PiTP “LHC Crash Course.” An excellent talk (with excellent recording quality) on why we’re excited about the LHC. A similar talk with awful recording quality can be found at the KITP.
  • Green, High Pt Physics at Hadron Colliders. We’ve set up a local journal club for hep-ph students who want to learn about collider physics and are roughly following a similar strategy as Green’s text (do not confuse it with his experimentalist-oriented Physics of Particle Detectors text). This text was recommended to me by a string theory-trained postdoc at the ICTP who has been getting his hands dirty with collider physics. It integrates event generators into the text, which I think is very important since some computational saavy is required to really do work in collider physics. Green uses CompHEP, though our local journal club uses MadGraph.

Background Reading

For some undergraduate-level background reading, I suggest the relevant chapters in the usual particle physics texts. The latest edition of Perkin’s Introduction to High Energy Physics has a nice chapter on colliders. One might also look at Halzen and Martin or Martin and Shaw for basic references on QCD and kinematics.

You should review rapidity in special relativity. Collider physicists use a quantity called pseudorapidity (which is the rapidity in the massless limit) which you should be comfortable working with. Other kinematic quantities which experimentalists use are things like transverse momentum/energy/mass. It’s worth spending an afternoon working through all of the definitions and learning how to play with these quantities.

Stepping it up to more technical presentations, I recommend the following textbooks:

  • Barger and Phillips, Collider Physics. It’s not immediately obvious that this book is useful since it doesn’t really have the flavor of a text that you can just read cover-to-cover with well-defined goals in each chapter. Rather the book is more helpful as a reference when considering particular processes. I found their presentation of W\rightarrow e\nu and deep inelastic scattering very nice, though you should be prepared to fill in a lot of the calculations as exercises throughout the text.
  • Ellis, Stirling, Webber, Collider QCD. This book is close to my heart since it was written by Englishmen from CERN, Durham, an Cambridge (though Stirling recently moved to Cambridge). It is a text for getting your hands dirty with QCD at hadron colliders—perhaps a little bit overkill for theorists who lean towards Beyond the Standard Model-building, but it’s a fantastic resource.
  • Leo, Techniques for Nuclear and Particle Physics Experiments. This is my preferred reference for experimental nitty-gritty when it’s necessary. For example, how do calorimeters work and why do muons pass right through them even though at high energies they’re practically indistinguishable from electrons?


These are important, you’ll want to have these handy.

  • Particle Data Book. More important than the actual data on particles are the reviews on collider physics.

You’ll also want to have useful information at your fingertips about the detectors on the main stage. The best way to do this is to have the detector’s technical design reports on your hard drive. (Wikipedia works in a pinch as well.)

Additionally, the Journal of Instrumentation has a comprehensive “all you would care to know about the LHC” issue

References for the General Public

These may be useful for really basic backgrounds or for giving public talks. They also helpul as image banks if you’re writing up lecture notes. 🙂

Review Articles, Lectures

These are generally shorter pedagogical review articles for reading through, rather than references for looking up bits and pieces of information.


Lecture Write-Ups

  • FN-233 2020.000: FNAL Collider Physics on an Abacus by D. Green (1986) This is actually quite a nice read. Lots of `rules of thumb’ discussion for the Tevatron. It’s a little bit dated (almost as old as I am), but it’s still good.
  • Peskin, Physics 450 (Stanford 2007, 08). Notes in Peskin’s distinctive handwriting. The course itself follows the Ellis, Stirling, Webber text and is more oriented towards collider QCD. However, the list of references is quite nice.
  • Hitoshi Murayama taught a “Colliders to Cosmos” course at Berkeley — there are some good references and exercises on his course website:
  • MIT 8.882 LHC Physics Course (training for experimentalists):
    • Contains video lectures… but you have to log-in using Caltech EVO system
    • … these look like good lectures, but can anyone figure out how to play a .evo file?

Recorded Lectures — Pedagogical

The TASI 2008 lectures below are supposed to be available on the TASI08 website, but these appear to have been taken down.
  • Tim Tait. Collider Signal I: Resonances
  • Howie Baer. Collider Signal II: Missing Et
  • Marcela Carena. Collider Signal III: Higgs
  • Peter Wittich. Accelerators/detectors.
  • Lynn Orr. Collider QCD.
  • Tilman Plehn. Kinematics to Dynamics.
SLAC SSI 2006: The Next Frontier: Exploring with the LHC. SSI has a reputation for having fantastic pedagogical lectures. Main page: Please see that page for links to the videos and slides. Here are some of the topics which are particularly relevant for us:
  • Engelen. Detectors at the LHC.
  • Tonelli. Tracking Systems.
  • Wermes. Pixel Vertex Detectors.
  • Zhu. EM Calorimetry.
  • Proudfoot. Hadron Calorimetry.
  • Taylor. Muon Detection.
  • Sphicas. Triggering.
CERN-Fermilab Hadron Collider Physics Summer School (HCPSS). or

This list isn’t nearly as complete as I wish it were. For that I apologize. Any additions would be greatly appreciated! (In return I’ll try to post my notes whenever they get reasonably-finished.)


4 Responses to “Collider Physics for Theory Students”

  1. 1 Big Vlad

    I hope stirling doesn’t know you’ve got him down as an englishman!

  2. Oh boy, I’ll probably get in trouble for that. Here’s an attempt to deflect attention: I’ve heard that most of the students in Berkeley think Ian Hinchliffe is Scottish.

  3. hi nice to see u

  1. 1 Guides in QFT, SUSY and Collider Physics « ETBarros

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