Of Particular Significance

Greetings from Japan

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 10/25/2011

I’ve already mentioned in some earlier posts that the international nature of high-energy physics is one of its great pleasures.  And occasionally the opportunity for travel arises in the context more of celebration than of pure work. In 2008, Professors Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa won the Nobel Prize, (sharing it with Yoichiro Nambu, who was awarded for a separate topic.) The award was for work they did together  in 1973 predicting [more or less] the existence of the “third generation” of quarks (the top and bottom quarks — the first two generations being (1) the up and down and (2) the charm and strange quarks.)   (You can read about the known quarks here.) They did this by noting that an important experiment (itself Nobel-Prize winning, for discovering the violation of a certain symmetry [“CP”] that had previously been thought valid) could be explained within the context of three or more generations of quarks, whereas the two generations that were [mostly] known at the time of their paper would not so easily suffice.  It was a simple, but absolutely crucial, observation; and it is now a classic argument, one I cover whenever I teach particle physics to graduate students.  [Unfortunately it’s too long a story for a short post.]

Thanks to their international recognition, a new institute named in their honor (which Maskawa now heads) has been founded at Nagoya University, where they long ago were both graduate students. And it seems every new institute in high-energy physics hosts an inauguration conference, with an international roster of invited speakers.  That conference [held in English, with the exception of Maskawa’s welcoming address] started yesterday (Monday in Japan) and runs til Wednesday. Immediately thereafter will follow another conference of celebration, this one of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Shoichi Sakata, mentor to both of these Nobel Prize winners, and a significant figure in the history of particle physics.  All in all, it means a week-long festival of Japanese high-energy physics and its long and distinguished history, which includes three previous Nobel Prizes (two in theoretical topics and one in experiment) and many major contributions to the field.

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3 Responses

  1. Since you’re in Japan, I really have to point out the work of Yoshio Koide, who has spent years trying to explain the relationship he discovered between the masses of the charged leptons. It still amazes me that this relationship is so neglected by theorists (outside of Asia, the only well-known theorist I can think of, who gave it any attention, is Ernest Ma), since it’s true to 1 part in 100,000, rather more impressive than ordinary “physics numerology”. I think it must be due to a theoretical prejudice and a methodological preference: the prejudice is that such relationships are only simple at high energy, and the preference is to use the masses of the known particles as input for predicting the masses of superpartners or other new particles. Everyone seems to have adopted an incrementalist philosophy according to which they only seek qualitative explanations (e.g. naturalness) for order-of-magnitude relationships, and actually explaining the masses in detail is an ambition reserved for the distant stringy utopia, when someone manages to guess the right Calabi-Yau.

    Koide’s latest paper came out on the arxiv just a few hours ago. In his “yukawaon” models, each particle gets its mass, not from a Higgs coupling, but from the VEV of a distinct scalar, so it’s as if each particle has its own Higgs. My own interest is in whether you can get the necessary scalars from something like N=8 supergravity, or from the numerous moduli of a string compactification. In any case, I commend the paper to your attention. 🙂

  2. I hope they celebrate Tomonaga as well – his “Story of Spin” has become one of my favorites – based on his lectures from 1973 or so.

  3. It is always good to hear that in other parts of the world (than the US …) the investments into science and physics have the proper positive sign; I mean opening a new institute instead of closing existing ones for example …

    Have fun at the celebrations 🙂

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