Serendipity: The susy bets

This small piece appeared in The Ph-Word when it was a newsletter, back in June ’19. “Serendipity” is the category for articles that are not about recent physics news.

It was mentioned here before that two special categories of betting in physics had been so frequent that each deserves its own article. So, after Stephen Hawking’s losing streak, now it’s bets involving susy.

Susy is an acronym for supersymmetry, a popular hypothetical theory that could expand the current knowledge on elementary particles. Thanks to its mathematical appeal and possible solutions to open questions, it’s been gathering fans since the ’70s. In the meantime however it also gathered critics – when it became obvious that in order to work it needs several sophisticated add-ons, and that it cannot make definite predictions due to the large number of its different versions. Bets were only begging to happen.
So some were placed on whether experiments at the Large Hadron Collider will see susy particles. And enough data was amassed by 2016 to settle them, with no new particles.

In the most populated bet 24 prominent physicists bet against 20 of their colleagues that no susy signs will be found and eventually received “a bottle of good cognac at a price not less than $100” from each of them.
Then there was theorist Garrett Lisi against nobelist Frank Wilczek, with the latter ending up $1,000 lighter. Two other bets involved five well-known bloggers of particle physics, with Tommaso Dorigo earning $1,000 from Jacques Distler and Gordon Watts, and Adam Falkowski getting $100 from Lubos Motl, whom he had given 100-to-1 odds.

Last but not least, Kenneth Lane’s win over David Gross is remarkable because its prize, a dinner at the posh Swiss restaurant “Girardet’s”, can’t be fulfilled: “Girardet’s” shut down and was outlived by the Large Hadron Collider. However, both will be outlived by susy, as most of the defeated parties mentioned here, as well as many other theorists, have explicitly not given up on susy despite the negative results on their own predictions.

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