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Massive particles 'too fat to come out in public'

Unification may require a change in attitude

Kate Oliver 21 September 2008

Is it any wonder than these big, beautiful particles don't want to come under scrutiny? They see physicists eyeing up size-zero photons all day

Could Homo sapiens' sizeist prejudice be holding back progress? Psychologists have been hinting at it for years, but we always assumed they were all crazy feminists driven to studying because they can't bake a decent pie. But it's possible that our appearance obsession could have a negative impact on proper science.

Massive particles predicted by our simplest 'grand unified theory' yet remain obstinately hidden. After years of not being able to find them, the suspicion is growing: perhaps they do not want to be found. The fact that it's the most massive particles that are the most coy can only mean one thing: they're concerned about discrimination.

Real scientists (i.e. physicists) have been embarrassed for some time at their failure to explain why there are essentially four different types of forces in the universe (gravitational, electromagnetic, and the weak and the strong nuclear forces). The simplest way of unifying three out of four of the fundamental forces is to assume that they are all the same at very high energies (much like political parties when they gain enough power). The only reason they seem to manifest themselves as four different forces is because we can only observe at puny energies. To make this theory (called supersymmetry, or SUSY to its friends) work, all the particles in nature would have to have a much heavier counterpart. But because of that equation (E=mc2) this only happens at gargantuan energies, like those of the very young universe.

Happily, with our super shiny technology and wonderful brains, we have built machines that fire particles at each other really, really fast (most of the speed of light fast), attaining really high energies, which should enable us to see the more massive partners of our particly friends.

But, um, we don't see them.

We can explain why we don't see one or two predictions of SUSY, but we seem to be missing tens of them. It looks like we're just making excuses to prevent our mate SUSY being interred in the graveyard of abandoned theories (she's got ever such a nice plot reserved between phlogiston and the time cube). But lo! There could be one explanation as to why we don't see any of the real heavyweight particles. All we need to do is introduce a fifth force, maybe not as fundamental but definitely equally inescapable – embarrassment. The obvious conclusion is that the overweight counterparts are too self-conscious to show themselves in public.

Given how obsessed 'civilised' society is with being slim – and ask yourself, is it coincidence that most high-energy particle physics is researched in these very same countries? – it seems obvious that scientists are not immune to this bias. These sumo-style superpartners are worried that if they are observed, they'll be cruelly mocked for their weight. Dr. Corpulent, chairperson of Stop Prejudice Against The Overweight and Under Tall (SPATOUT) said: "Is it any wonder than these big, beautiful particles don't want to come under scrutiny? They see physicists eyeing up size-zero photons all day – what are they to conclude? Are we making them feel wanted? Are there any successful role models for the larger particle? They see other massive particles – who, let us remember, are much less massive than their superpartners – decaying and going to pieces under the public eye. Why should they expect to be treated any differently?"

Dr. Corpulent goes on to advise that the only way to make heavier-than-average particles feel better about being seen in public is to create an atmosphere where fat is fine. She suggests that particle physicists put up a few posters of hot or inspiring larger people in their labs, and try to ogle these instead of photons. Physicists are required to make a personal effort by eating a daily ration of Camembert and cream cakes in pursuit of a more rounded, friendly physique. The French have undertaken to deliver extra calories to CERN as their contribution to the particle physics cause. Excessive exercise is also to be banned on site as a waste of calories. The recommended method of transport in these institutions is now to scoot along the corridors in one's spinny chair, with a sustaining pile of doughnuts on one's lap for the long journey to the cafeteria.

If we can just get enough obese physicists, overweight particles may come out of hiding and SUSY may live to fight another day (albeit mainly by sitting on her opponents). The new fat-friendly programme also has benefits for high-energy research centres worldwide, as unprecedented numbers of students are drawn by the industrial quantities of chocolate-caramel éclairs.