Friday, February 23rd, 2018

In quest of the true a-tom


The God Particle – 9

For some 275 rather tedious pages, about two-thirds through the book, we come to the 1950s and 60s. These decades, according to Lederman, were extremely productive in the search for the smallest particle, as the atom was methodically dismembered. One reason was that:

…anyone with a good idea and a lot of determination, it seemed, could get his idea funded. Perhaps this is as good a criterion for healthy science as any. The nation is still benefiting from the science that got done in these decades.

Perhaps the media didn’t quite know what to think about all this activity, for Jay Leno was quoted as saying, “Yesterday three scientists won the Nobel Prize for finding the smallest object in the universe. It turns out that it’s the steak at Denny’s.” At any rate, the dream of Democritus and others was finally being realized.

I’ve put off dealing with the scientist’s standard model for as long as I can, but the path to the God particle is closely tied to science’s quest for a grand unified theory that can be used to explain everything from the smallest sub-microscopic particle of matter to the cosmos itself. I can’t help but wonder if, from God’s point of view, seeking such a theory is really pushing the envelope of what it is possible for us to know.

About the standard model Lederman has this to say.

We will chronicle the construction of the standard model, which contains all the elementary particles needed to make all the matter in the universe, past or present, plus the forces that act on these particles. In some ways it is more complex than Democritus’s model, in which each form of matter had its own indivisible a-tom joined together because of their complementary shapes. In the standard model, the matter particles bind to each other via three different forces carried by yet more particles. All these particles interact with each other by an intricate kind of dance, which can be described mathematically but cannot be visualized.

There’s the rub. Like many technically-inclined people, I keep on (unsuccessfully) trying to visualize mathematical solutions. This separates the engineer from the scientist, I guess.

By 1992 (when The God Particle was written), the standard theory had had numerous contributors and involved such weird entities as multicolored quarks, leptons and their antiparticles, electromagnetism, the strong force, the weak force and I forget what else. There is one obvious force missing however, because it cannot be reconciled with the other parts of the standard theory. That force is gravity. Democritus must be laughing his head off.


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