“I was surprised by Higgs' humility”

It happened on Tuesday, April 9, at noon. Javier Santaolalla, the Spanish physicist who worked on the discovery of the Higgs boson, hangs up the phone after offering an interview to LA RAZÓN about the latest advances at CERN. A few hours later, newspapers around the world replicate the news: the discoverer of the God particle, Peter Higgs, has died. Santaolalla is kind enough to get back in touch with the above signatory. «I only saw him twice in my life, but I was surprised by Higgs' humility. He was a very shy person. He always said that his contribution had been small. However, his figure is enormous: “he championed the search for the boson and was the visible figure necessary to carry out the project.”

The LHC began its activity this week, are stoppages common?

The collider is a machine that is constantly providing data that, in turn, allows different physical processes to be carried out and frequent stops have to be made, first of all to carry out improvement work. There are moments of shutdown, not stop, to perform upgrades – another technical name, but well, it is understood in itself -. They are made to improve certain devices and also take advantage to repair things that may be malfunctioning. And in winter, until March, it is used to stop because of the cost of electricity.

What remains to be discovered in physics?

There are many things that still remain to be known about the universe related to antimatter or dark matter. Scientific studies need a lot of data provided by experiments such as those at CERN and those collisions that take place at the Hadron Collider.

What is the LHC looking for?

On the one hand, experience everything related to the speculation of physics, because in the end there are many theories that somehow compete to be the correct one and each one gives predictions. For example, supersymmetry predicts that there is a set of particles that should appear, while string theory says that there are many dimensions. Experiments are done to try to confirm these predictions. There is also a very interesting line that is to search like this simply because chance discoveries occur. That part is sometimes not mentioned, but it is significant when there is a theoretical impasse like now.

Is there a theoretical stagnation? Why?

Many physicists agree that current theories are very successful, but there are signs of stagnation. Since quantum theory was developed in the 1960s, there has not been any improvement that, in any way, marks the direction that must be followed to find a more complete theory than the current one. The current one works very well, although it is known that it is not perfect, but there is no strong indication that points to a new theory and that is why it is being sought. This is what is known in physics as “beyond the standard model” or established physics. A new physics is sought.

Why did you choose to disseminate science on social networks?

This boom in social networks has brought something very interesting: people, 20 or 30 years ago, could only access scientific content by going to university or buying a scientific journal; In short, being part of a certain social class. Networks have allowed a group of people who traditionally would not consume this type of dissemination to access scientific content. In some way, they have democratized it, it has massified it. Not only have the platforms changed, but also the codes. I believe that there has been a diversification and clarification of informative styles that has encouraged more people to get closer to science.

However, they also spread fakes… we have seen it this week with the eclipse.

Well, it is a phenomenon that has always occurred and will always be there and you have to learn to deal with it. People will always speculate, but there will also be people who try to deny the fakes and inform the population sensibly. For example, the LHC was commissioned just on the day of the eclipse. It is a date coincidence without any type of relationship between one and the other.

Is science the first thing governments cut back on?

It's always the easiest thing to sacrifice. If there is a strike by transporters or air traffic controllers, terrible chaos is generated. It is an element of pressure that can collapse society. A scientists' strike does not have that power; The day passes without difficulty. The deficiencies in science are not noticeable in the short term, but in the long term. This often makes it difficult to pressure governments to take the sector seriously. But hey, that's part of my job: to show that it is important.

You have said that studying the universe is studying yourself, it sounds very spiritual, are you a believer?

I believe that we are part of a whole, although I would define myself as agnostic, because basically I remain curious to know what life in the universe consists of and to find my own path and my own answer.


Star of scientific dissemination

Considered the greatest scientific disseminator in Spain, Javier Santaolalla (Burgos, 1982) has a doctorate in particle physics. Together with Ciemat and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), he was part of the team that confirmed the existence of the so-called Higgs boson, the particle that explains how the mass of all particles originates. Following his recent move to Mexico, he received an award from the Senate for his contribution to science. He has filled entire pavilions to talk about concepts as abstract as quantum fields using metaphors about Pokémon and other cultural phenomena. He is the author of several books and a YouTube channel with over a million followers.