One thing that makes physics, and especially particle physics, is unique in the sciences is the split between theory and experiment. The role of experimentalists is clear: they build and conduct experiments, take data and analyze it using mathematical, statistical, and numerical techniques to separate signal from background. In short, they seem to do all of the real science!
So what is it that theorists do, besides sipping espresso and scribbling on chalk boards? In this post we describe one type of theoretical work called model building. This usually falls under the umbrella of phenomenology, which in physics refers to making connections between mathematically defined theories (or models) of nature and actual experimental observations of nature.
One common scenario is that one experiment observes something unusual: an anomaly. Two things immediately happen:
Other experiments find ways to cross-check to see if they can confirm the anomaly.
Theorists start figure out the broader implications if the anomaly is real.
#1 is the key step in the scientific method, but in this post we’ll illuminate what #2 actually entails. The scenario looks a little like this:
An unusual experimental result (anomaly) is observed. One thing we would like to know is whether ...