I’m continuing the reader-requested explanation of the “triplet model,” a classic and simple variation on the Standard Model of particle physics, in which the W boson mass can be raised slightly relative to Standard Model predictions without affecting other current experiments. The math required is pre-university level, mostly algebra and graphing.

Advanced particle physics today: I’m continuing the reader-requested explanation of the “triplet model,” a classic and simple variation on the Standard Model of particle physics, in which the W boson mass can be raised slightly relative to Standard Model predictions without affecting other current experiments. The math required is pre-university level, mostly algebra and graphing. The second … Read more

Advanced particle physics today: Based on readers’ requests, I have started the process of explaining the “triplet model,” a classic variation on the Standard Model of particle physics, in which the W boson mass can be raised slightly relative to Standard Model predictions without affecting other current experiments. The math required is pre-university level, so … Read more

One of the concepts that’s playing a big role in contemporary discussions of the laws of nature is the notion of “vacua”, the plural of the word “vacuum”. I’ve just completed an article about what vacua are, and what it means for a universe to have multiple vacua, or for a theory that purports to describe … Read more

Familiar throughout our international culture, the “Big Bang” is well-known as the theory that scientists use to describe and explain the history of the universe. But the theory is not a single conceptual unit, and there are parts that are more reliable than others.

It’s important to understand that the theory — a set of equations describing how the universe (more precisely, the observable patch of our universe, which may be a tiny fraction of the universe) changes over time, and leading to sometimes precise predictions for what should, if the theory is right, be observed by humans in the sky — actually consists of different periods, some of which are far more speculative than others. In the more speculative early periods, we must use equations in which we have limited confidence at best; moreover, data relevant to these periods, from observations of the cosmos and from particle physics experiments, is slim to none. In more recent periods, our confidence is very, very strong.

Notice that in the figure, I don’t measure time from the start of the universe. That’s because I don’t know how or when the universe started (and in particular, the notion that it started from a singularity, or worse, an exploding “cosmic egg”, is simply an over-extrapolation to the past and a misunderstanding of what the theory actually says.) Instead I measure time from the start of the Hot Big Bang in the observable patch of the universe. I also don’t even know precisely when the Hot Big Bang started, but the uncertainty on that initial time (relative to other events) is less than one second — so all the times I’ll mention, which are much longer than that, aren’t affected by this uncertainty.

I’ll now take you through the different confidence zones of the Big Bang, from the latest to the earliest, as indicated in the figure above.

The first day of the conference celebrating theoretical physicist Joe Polchinski (see also yesterday’s post) emphasized the broad impact of his research career. Thursday’s talks, some on quantum gravity and others on quantum field theory, were given by Juan Maldacena, on his latest thinking on the relation between gravity, geometry and the entropy of quantum … Read more

Today I continue with my series of posts on fields, strings and predictions. During the 1980s, as I discussed in the previous post in this series, string theorists learned that of all the possible string theories that one could imagine, there were only five that were mathematically consistent. What they learned in the first half of the … Read more

[This is the seventh post in a series that begins here.]

In the last post in this series, I pointed out that there’s a lot about quantum field theory [the general case] that we don’t understand. In particular there are many specific quantum field theories whose behavior we cannot calculate, and others whose existence we’re only partly sure of, since we can’t even write down equations for them. And I concluded with the remark that part of the reason we know about this last case is due to “supersymmetry”.

What’s the role of supersymmetry here? Most of the time you read about supersymmetry in the press, and on this website, it’s about the possible role of supersymmetry in addressing the naturalness problem of the Standard Model [which overlaps with and is almost identical to the hierarchy problem.] But actually (and I speak from personal experience here) one of the most powerful uses of supersymmetry has nothing to do with the naturalness problem at all.

The point is that quantum field theories that have supersymmetry are mathematically simpler than those that don’t. For certain physical questions — not all questions, by any means, but for some of the most interesting ones — it is sometimes possible to solve their equations exactly. And this makes it possible to learn far more about these quantum field theories than about their non-supersymmetric cousins.

Who cares? you might ask. Since supersymmetry isn’t part of the real world in our experiments, it seems of no use to study supersymmetric quantum field theories.

But that view would be deeply naive. It’s naive for three reasons.