I heard from a friend recently that a new 'type' of matter has been detected at CERN: neutralinos. Is that true?
Asked by: Elizabeth
As a member of the particle physics community I can only say that I wish the rumors were true!
The LEP electron/positron collider at CERN has been slowly increasing its energy over the past two or three
years, searching for any number of 'new' particles: Higgs bosons, new quarks, new gauge bosons, supersymmetric
particles (such as neutralinos), etc.. Over the past 18 months there have been occasional flurries of
excitement in the particle physics community -- and articles in the New York Times -- announcing the possible
discovery of some new particle. Unfortunately each of these exciting rumors has proven to be premature.
Recently an Italian collaboration named DAMA has published data suggesting what might be a signature for dark
matter. While none of the other worldwide experiments looking for dark matter has been able to confirm these
results, the data is consistent with the hypothesis that much of the dark matter in the universe is made up of
neutralinos. Perhaps this is the new experimental data (recently described in the New York Times) to which your
friend refers. Despite experimentalists crying 'wolf' several times in the last few years, this recent evidence
is creating a bit of excitement. You can download a postscript version of their publication at:
but this report isn't exactly written for the lay-person.
Another possibility is that your friend is thinking of an experiment at CERN which claims to have found a new
*state* of matter known as a quark-gluon plasma. This doesn't involve any new types of matter (it's the same
particles we've known about for a while -- no neutralinos here!). However, it does involve quarks that are not
bound up into protons and neutrons but are instead temporarily free to propagate on their own. This experiment
received a good deal of press lately as well and you can find a fairly readable account of what's going on at
the CERN website:
So unless your friend actually knows someone who works at CERN and has let you in on a big secret, the
experiment you're interested in is one of these two. I hope this helps.
Answered by: Brent Nelson, M.A. Physics, Ph.D. Student, UC Berkeley
'The mathematician's patterns, like the painter's or the poets, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.'