It’s On

Place yer bets, folks!

Here at Aspen, there’s a one week overlap between the workshop with mostly string theorists:

“String Theory, Gauge Theory & Particle Physics”

The workshop will focus on insights into particle physics and gauge theory dynamics from string theory. The proposed activities will concentrate on aspects of string vacua, both from the perspective of flux compactifications and D-brane gauge dynamics, as well as new insights into strong gauge dynamics from string theory. Given the recent progress and continued central interest in these research directions, we expect to have an exciting program. We also plan to keep the door open for any other exciting developments in string theory which may arise in the coming year and which touch on the themes of the current planned program.

… and the workshop with mostly phenomenologists:

“Particle Theory in Anticipation of the LHC”

There has been remarkable progress in the past few years developing new models of particle physics beyond the Standard Model and in developing innovative ways for testing these models in experiment. Much of the theoretical progress has been stimulated by more formal developments, leading to an increased collaboration and synergy between more formal and more phenomenological theorists. The goal of this workshop is to bridge the gap between theory and phenomenology by bringing together physicists with diverse expertise. We intend to bring together experts on the Standard Model (particularily collider phenomenologists), beyond the Standard Model (supersymmetry, extra dimensions), and string theorists with an interest in phenomenology. We expect that the collaborations fostered at this workshop would lead to new directions in model building, to studies of experimental signatures of new models, and to the development of new techniques for studying strongly coupled physics relevant for particle experiments.

So what? Good, yes, lots of cross-pollination of ideas, sitting in on each others seminars, historic calculations over lunch, and so forth.

But, significantly, at the family picnic today, one phenomenologist organizer came over to one of the string theory organisers and said

“Phenomenology Vs String Theory. Basketball. Thursday. 5:00pm. Be There”.

So which side is your money on? And what are your reasons, physics or otherwise?

I will try to report on the game, if I can make it.


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19 Responses to It’s On

  1. Aaron F. says:

    Oh, man! Theorist on theorist basketball?! I know a lot of you have more hand-eye coordination than you let on, but I’d still pay good money to see this. 😉

    (Of course, the only hand-eye coordination my job requires is the ability to move a cursor around a screen… so I guess I can’t talk. ^_^)

  2. Clifford says:

    Yeah, but who’s your money on? Do tell!


  3. Pyracantha says:

    is the basketball game co-ed?

  4. Navneeth says:

    String theorists trying to put a ball through a loop…hmmm…interesting!

  5. Arun says:

    One might expect the phenomenologists to be phenomenal! The main problem is to keep them from colliding with each other.

  6. astromcnaught says:

    Given my vague understanding of what a phenomenologist actually does coupled with vague ideas of basketball I predict that the Pheno’s will win 3 hoops to 2.

    The ST’s will have brilliant tactics. However these tactics will have no observable effect on the outcome whatsoever. The ST’s will also field many more players, again to little effect.

    The Pheno’s will be much fitter after the many hours of cycling round colliders checking for leaks. Despite their great disappointment with the velocity of the ball, the fact that it exists in 3 dimensions only will prove to be an overwhelming advantage.

    Finally, the ST’s will grind to a halt pondering which of the 10**500 versions of the rules should be applied at any particular point.

    cheers and hope that’s not too cheeky 🙂

  7. Clifford says:


    That’s hilarious! I especially like:

    “The ST’s will have brilliant tactics. However these tactics will have no observable effect on the outcome whatsoever.”



    The game, like the field, is open to people of all sorts, regardless of gender or other grouping. In fact, for this game we could really do with Eva Silverstein right now. In earlier years, it was always fun to see her underestimated by players who did not know her, and she’d steal the ball and move away moving fast leaving them standing… and then shoot really well from anywhere out to and including the three-point line. With her in combination with Ofer Aharony and Shamit Kachru, that “Rutgers Offence”, as I used to refer to it, was unstoppable.

    So yes, these games are co-ed.


  8. Bob McNees says:


    Man, oh man.

    Every year I forget to apply to Aspen before the deadline. And every year people ask me if I’ll be there, and I have to hand my head and say “No. No, I won’t be at Aspen. I forgot to apply…again.” Every year it’s the same. But until now, I felt like I was only letting myself down. A theory vs pheno basketball game? A contest where I can clearly be of some use, and it’s at the one event that I consistently forget to apply to.

    That is weak salsa.

    I predict a 0-0 draw.

    Theorists get the post-game nod on account of fewer self-induced injuries on the court.

  9. Moshe says:

    I thought I’d give Aspen a skip this year, but now it looks like a bad decision (I bet the music festival is great also). The outcome of the game depends strongly if David K. is in town or not…

    BTW, I did not know you are part of the Rutgers BB tradition, I guess we did not overlap. By the time I was around it was the legendary Rutgers defence that was all the rage, nearly lost a limb or two on a couple of occasions there.

    (I wonder if such tradition can continue now that Ofer is not around to gently encourage everyone to come)

  10. Arun says:

    I don’t think that a ball going through a hoop is a verifiable event in more than 3 dimensions, is it? That means the String team compulsarily scores 0.

  11. edward hessler says:


    Please say a few things to/for the uninitiated about the continuum between formal and phenomenological theorists as well as the two ends.


  12. Clifford says:

    Does anybody want to take a stab at that please? I’m in the middle of writing a report. Sorry.


  13. Clifford says:

    Ah, ok.

    So it is a complete continuum, really. We’re all theorists. We are just tackling different aspects of the puzzle of what Nature is up to. There’s the matter of developing theories right from the drawing board. This often means looking for new principles, symmetries, physical mechanisms, mathematical techniques, etc, that you then build into a working framework. This does mean being informed by Nature, and having an eye on what has gone before, just as in any other area of the science. Much of what I said are the primary concerns -but not exclusively so- of your more formal modern theorist. Your typical modern phenomenologist is working more directly on the issue of how a given theoretical model or framework interfaces with what we know about (adn would like to know about) Nature in a precise way. In other words, you have thought processes like “if this symmetry principle is true, then it implies the following term in my equations, which in turn imply that -putting in the observed data from experiement X- I should see the following phenomenon (decay rate, new particle, pattern of fringes, bump on my graph, etc) in experiment Y.” If experiment Y has already been done, and those things are not seen, said phenomenologist concludes that the symmetry principle is not true (or perhaps that some assumption along the way needs to be adjusted – it can be a messy business), or that something more complicated is going on that can contribute to the physics and modify the expected signal (such as other mechanisms at work, etc). If experiment Y has not been done, this chain of thought might be the beginning of drive to get the experiment built, and test the hypothesis.

    Anyway, I hope the distinction is clearer, although when it comes down to it, there’s no sharp distinction. In the more specialised world of particle physics, the distinctions can often be clearer than in other fields, but even then not so. There are some things the formal theorist can immediately rule out as most likely being incompatible with observation -more than three large spatial dimensions all on an equal footing, for example- and others do need the help of physicists with a more delicate knowledge of the resulting signals in the lab – large extra spatial dimensions where only some of the forces we know can act, for example. Similarly, there are important principles that phenomenologists can and do use in their guiding thoughts and part of their tools (and which directly impinge upon the lab results) are not just the province of the formal theorist -rotational invariance, Lorentz invariance, locality, charge conservation, momentum and energy conservation, gauge invariance, etc, etc.

    So we can all be formal, and we can all be phenomenological. To varying degrees. As theories and experiments have become more and more complex, there has been an increasing need to specialise (given that we only have finite lives and careers), leading to, for example, basketball throwdowns. (Or is it throwsdown?)


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  15. sportsfan says:

    So who won the game, and what were the lineups for hep-th and hep-ph?

  16. Clifford says:

    Full report tomorrow…. with pics…. need to get some sleep.


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