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ERC Advanced Grant Project (ERC-ADG-2014): NEO-NAT: Understanding mass scales in nature

Alessandro Strumia, associate professor at the Department of Physics, is the Principal Investigator of the project “NEO-NAT: Understanding mass scales in nature” awarded €1,876,215.30 in funding by the European Research Council. The overall aim of the project is to explore new ideas to understand why very different mass scales exist in nature.

Summary of the context

The experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) discovered the Higgs boson but did not confirm what was the dominant theoretical paradigm. Indeed, many theorists expected that the Higgs should exist accompanied by supersymmetric particles or some other new physics capable of explaining why the mass of the Higgs (which controls the mass of all other elementary particles of the Standard Model of Fundamental Interactions) is 17 orders of magnitude less than Planck's mass (above which each elementary particle becomes a black hole, according to General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics). This enormous separation between the two scales allows the existence of objects made up of many particles, but it is still not fully understood.

The experimental result of the LHC is simple but surprising - surprising in its simplicity. The absence of new physics capable of keeping the Higgs "naturally" light is now considered a serious problem. It is probably not an exaggeration to draw a parallel between the LHC's current negative results and the negative results of the Michelson-Morley experiment, which in 1887 did not confirm the existence of the ether, giving way to a crisis which was then resolved by relativity. Crises in physics can lead to progress.

Goals, results and impact

The general objective of the project is the development of new unconventional ideas that can explain the existence in nature of enormously separate scales, and the identification of the experimental signals of such theoretical ideas. Research conducted by the PI and research team members shows it is possible to go beyond the state of the art by to achieve concrete progress. The first results generated by the research project are described in dozens of publications, some of which can be found at this link.

From a theoretical point of view, the project tackles a key issue in fundamental physics, and therefore its results could have a significant scientific impact. The potential practical impact would be that typical of physics. In the last century, fundamental physics made an important socio-economic impact, with the discovery that matter is made up of a few types of particles (the stable ones). Subsequent discoveries of new unstable particles have had only an indirect impact. The project also includes the study of dark matter, which constitutes a larger fraction of the total mass of the universe than normal matter, and which could be some new and as yet unknown stable particle. Understanding what dark matter is could have a direct impact once again, depending on the nature of the discovery.

Further information:

NEO-NAT project sheet on the Cordis portal

Ultima modifica: Lun 30 Nov -1 - 00:00

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