The GUTsy effort to unify the quantum forces

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A GUT feeling about physics

Scientists want to connect the fundamental forces of nature in one Grand Unified Theory

For Symmetry Magazine:

The 1970s were a heady time in particle physics. New accelerators in the United States and Europe turned up unexpected particles that theorists tried to explain, and theorists in turn predicted new particles for experiments to hunt. The result was the Standard Model of particles and interactions, a theory that is essentially a catalog of the fundamental bits of matter and the forces governing them.

While that Standard Model is a very good description of the subatomic world, some important aspects—such as particle masses—come out of experiments rather than theory.

“If you write down the Standard Model, quite frankly it’s a mess,” says John Ellis, a particle physicist at King’s College London. “You’ve got a whole bunch of parameters, and they all look arbitrary. You can’t convince me that’s the final theory!” [Read the rest at Symmetry Magazine…]

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Some light reading about light

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As I mentioned before, I’m branching out a bit and writing some listicles for Symmetry Magazine this year. The first covered gravity, and the second covers… light!

Eight things you might not know about light

Light is all around us, but how much do you really know about the photons speeding past you?

For Symmetry Magazine:

1. Photons can produce shock waves in water or air, similar to sonic booms.

Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. However, light slows down in air, water, glass and other materials as photons interact with atoms, which has some interesting consequences.

The highest-energy gamma rays from space hit Earth’s atmosphere moving faster than the speed of light in air. These photons produce shock waves in the air, much like a sonic boom, but the effect is to make more photons instead of sound. Observatories like VERITAS in Arizona look for those secondary photons, which are known as Cherenkov radiation. Nuclear reactors also exhibit Cherenkov light in the water surrounding the nuclear fuel. [Read the rest at Symmetry Magazine…]

Some heavy facts about gravity

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I’m not generally the type of writer who makes listicles, but I’m producing a few for Symmetry Magazine this year. The first covers the OG of fundamental forces: gravity!

Six weighty facts about gravity

Perplexed by gravity? Don’t let it get you down

For Symmetry Magazine:

Gravity: we barely ever think about it, at least until we slip on ice or stumble on the stairs. To many ancient thinkers, gravity wasn’t even a force—it was just the natural tendency of objects to sink toward the center of Earth, while planets were subject to other, unrelated laws.

Of course, we now know that gravity does far more than make things fall down. It governs the motion of planets around the Sun, holds galaxies together and determines the structure of the universe itself. We also recognize that gravity is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, along with electromagnetism, the weak force and the strong force.

The modern theory of gravity—Einstein’s general theory of relativity—is one of the most successful theories we have. At the same time, we still don’t know everything about gravity, including the exact way it fits in with the other fundamental forces. But here are six weighty facts we do know about gravity. [Read the rest at Symmetry Magazine]

A new detector in the hunt for particles and the origin of matter

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Belle II and the matter of antimatter

Go inside the new detector looking for why we’re here

For Symmetry Magazine:

We live in a world full of matter: stars made of matter, planets made of matter, pizza made of matter. But why is there pizza made of matter rather than pizza made of antimatter or, indeed, no pizza at all?

In the first split-second after the big bang, the universe made a smidgen more matter than antimatter. Instead of matter and antimatter annihilating one another and leaving an empty, cold universe, we ended up with a surplus of stuff. Now scientists need the most sensitive detectors and mountains of experimental data to understand where that imbalance comes from.

Belle II is one of those detectors that will look for differences between matter and antimatter to explain why we’re here at all. Currently under construction, the 7.5-meter-long detector will be installed in the newly recommissioned SuperKEKB particle accelerator located in Tsukuba, Japan. SuperKEKB runs beams of electrons and positrons (the antimatter version of electrons) into each other at close to the speed of light, and Belle II—once it is fully operational in 2018—will analyze the detritus of the collisions. [Read the rest at Symmetry Magazine…]