More than a year ago, scientists found the Higgs boson. Yesterday, two physicists who 50 years ago theorized the existence of this particle, which is responsible for conferring mass to all other known particles in the universe, got the Nobel, the highest prize in science.
For all the excitement the award has already generated, finding the Higgs — arguably the most important discovery in more than a generation — has left physicists without a clear roadmap of where to go next. While popular articles often describe how the Higgs might help theorists investigating the weird worlds of string theory, multiple universes, or supersymmetry, the truth is that evidence for these ideas is scant to nonexistent.
No one is sure which of these models, if any, will eventually describe reality. The current picture of the universe, the Standard Model, is supposed to account for all known particles and their interactions. But scientists know that it’s incomplete. Its problems need fixing, and researchers could use some help figuring out how. Some of them look at the data and say that we need to throw out speculative ideas such as supersymmetry and the multiverse, models that look elegant mathematically but are unprovable from an experimental perspective. Others look at the exact same data and come to the opposite conclusion.
“Physics is at a crossroads,” said cosmologist Neil Turok, speaking to a class of young scientists in September at the Perimeter Institute, which he directs. “In a sense we’ve entered a very deep crisis.”
Porters transport a car on long poles across a stream in Nepal, January 1950.
Photograph by Volkmar K. Wenztel, National Geographic
On the anniversary of the founding of Volkswagen, we offer a series of photos made at the company’s famous Wolfsburg plant in 1951.
(Walter Sanders—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
This week’s cover of TIME focuses on the millennial generation, or as cover story author Joel Stein calls them, ‘The New Greatest Generation.’
Read a preview here.
(Photograph by Andrew B. Myers for TIME)