* Research looks to support a "theory of everything"
* Some voices of dissent over effort
* Discovery would back up string theory
By Robert Evans
GENEVA, Aug 8 Scientists who stunned the world
with their discovery of a particle that may be the basic
building block of the universe now are on the lookout for a
hitherto unseen world of particles that could open the way to
finalising a "theory of everything."
CERN scientists, who announced last month that - almost
certainly - the elusive Higgs boson had been spotted, are
trawling through the vast volume of material produced in the
Geneva research centre's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) for signs
of what they call "SUSY".
Formally known as Supersymmetry, SUSY is the idea that every
one of the elementary particles that make up the universe and
everything in it has an almost, but not quite identical,
"SUSY is still a very valid option and we have just started
to constrain it on the energy scale," CERN particle physicist
Oliver Buchmueller told Reuters.
"There are many regions on the map of where it should be
that we have still to explore."
Its existence, many researchers say, was supported by the
presumed discovery of the Higgs with which, physicists say, it
is inextricably linked.
"Supersymmetry," leading U.S. theoretician Matt Strassler
says, "is a conjectured symmetry of space and time." It could be
integrated with Albert Einstein's theory of relativity to
provide a fuller explanation of the laws of nature.
Physicists say SUSY may explain the invisible dark matter
that makes up around 80 percent of the solid substance of the
universe, and would provide backing for "string theory" -- a
leading contender for a "theory of everything".
String theory holds that instead of particles, the universe
is composed of microscopic strings.
That overarching view would replace the present explanation
of how the universe works -- the Standard Model, which was
developed in the 1970s but has glaring gaps, including where
gravity fits into the picture.
Searching for SUSY - or proving it a chimera - was always
part of the programme for the subterranean LHC, in which
particles are smashed together at near light-speed to create
billions of explosions like the primeval Big Bang.
CERN director-general Rolf Heuer regularly includes it as
one of the "New Physics" goals for the LHC. But some advance
predictions before the giant machine began operations in March
2010 suggested SUSY signals could turn up quickly.
The fact that this has not proven to be the case has led to
speculation in parts of the scientific media and blogosphere, as
well as among some older researchers, that SUSY-hunting is
taking particle physics up a blind alley.
"Is Supersymmetry dead?" asked a headline in the respected
journal Scientific American in April this year. Writers on
science websites have taken up the theme, suggesting that SUSY
had better appear soon or it would indeed be defunct.
CERN's Buchmueller, who works on one of the LHC's two
largest experiments, the CMS, and his colleague on the
alternative ATLAS, Paul de Jong, strongly disagree.
"There is no scientific basis for that claim," said the
German researcher, who shares time between Geneva and teaching
at London's Imperial College of Science and Technology. "The
theory is still very much alive."
"Supersymmetry is one of the most compelling possible
extensions of the Standard Model and a leading contender for a
new principle of nature than can be discovered in high-energy
colliders," the pair said in a recent joint paper.
Other physicists at CERN and in research centres around the
world argue that supersymmetrical particles are more likely to
be spotted from early 2015 when the power of the LHC and the
impact of its particle collisions will have been doubled.
"This was always going to be a long haul," Buchmueller said.
(Reported by Robert Evans; Editing by Michael Roddy)