Before, behind and beyond the discovery of the Higgs boson

This is the title of a conference run by the Royal Society in London that I spent today and yesterday attending. Overall, there wasn’t anything particularly new or controversial said, and the level was mostly non-technical. Nevertheless, there were many good talks, albeit with plenty of overlap; I’ll quickly mention just a few.

The first talk, by Tom Kibble, was a lovely 40 minute recounting of the birth of the idea of spontaneous symmetry breaking in gauge theories from his perspective as one of its founders and as a member of Abdus Salam’s group at Imperial College. Another interesting talk was by Mikhail Shaposhnikov on his Higgs inflaton model of cosmology, which uses the Higgs field to drive inflation and incorporates scale symmetry. In addition, there were several experimental talks, including one by Fabiola Gianotti and Tejinder Virdee (former spokespersons for ATLAS and CMS, respectively) on the Higgs discovery/measurement and there were several other talks on searching for new physics at the LHC. One interesting fact from Chris Llewellyn-Smith in his talk on the genesis of the LHC—with apparently more such stories contained in his upcoming book—is that the LHC magnet casings are, because of him, coloured Oxford blue, which is, he remarked, unfortunately quite similar to Cambridge blue…