The Frustrating Search for New Physics

This is a general audience article I wrote for Science in the News (Harvard’s graduate student popular science blog). It describes a central issue in the particle physics right now: everyone believes the Standard Model of particle physics should be wrong, but no one can determine where exactly it goes wrong.

I’m sharing this here because I first joined this forum when I was writing this article - you see these first posts of mine which basically talk about the same topics! So thanks @swamidass and @Patrick especially for unknowingly egging me on to finish writing it by asking questions about the Standard Model in the forum. :smile:


Very nice @dga471! It is great to see you getting your work out there like this. Maybe you will be the next Ethan Seigel.

Particle physics says that the universe shouldn’t exist.

This is a radical claim! But if the current theories that underlie particle physics are correct and complete, then the Big Bang that birthed the universe would have simply resulted in a massive flash of light. Nothing else would remain – no stars, planets or galaxies. And neither you nor I would be around to read this text.

@Patrick, you are going to want to read this one.


@dga471, this is a hilarious figure. This must be exactly how physicists see biology. A bunch of atoms, give rise to a leaf. No DNA, no cells, or organelles. No structures. Just the leaf as a cartoon, and the next scale down is an atom. Hilarious.


:rofl: I think I originally was thinking of adding at least molecules to the picture (and instead of a leaf, depicting something inorganic like a piece of metal), but because molecules or cells are not mentioned at all in the article, that was the picture the artist drew. In addition, since I was not an expert on biology, I wouldn’t be able to comment on the accuracy of a diagram of a cell!


Daniel, I enjoyed the article. Very clear. Thanks.

@dga471 Is the asymmetry in the splitting of the weak force and EM after the big bang account for any of the anti-matter matter asymmetry?

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@AllenWitmerMiller, how is this for a comic of some sort?

I thought it was quite effective in the context of the general audience article @dga471 wrote.

I tend to see humor in lots of things but I kept a straight face on this one. I liked it.

I didn’t interpret it that way at all. The illustration is not about biology. It’s about physics—but it just happened to choose a leaf as an example of something from our everyday lives. The ancient Greek philosopher Democritus appears in lots of elementary school science books because of his atomic theory. Not until recent centuries has science classified the different kinds of atoms and determined how they interact in order to form molecules. Even so, Democritus was headed in the right direction.

The twentieth century brought a better understanding of the subatomic components of Democritus’ “indivisible atoms.” (Our English word atom ultimately come from the Greek word ATOMOS, which combines A- [not] and TEMNEIN [to cut], because Democritus assumed that a collections of atom could be cut or separated but not the atom itself.) By the time I was in grade school, the proton, electron, and neutron had become familiar terms to the average American, even if not everybody could define them.

Gluons and quarks (and so many other bizarre things in the “sub-sub-atomic” world) brought another level of wonder and appreciation for the complexity of the universe. I remember reading about such physics during my teen years and deciding that there were just too many “new” subatomic particles for me to memorize and keep straight. (And before recent decades, physicists weren’t sure how to make sense of them all. And the Higgs Boson was many years away.)

My primary point is that the illustration simply summarizes man’s deeper penetration into smaller and smaller scales of the matter-energy world we live in. Yes, @dga471 could have used finer divisions where the leaf was eventually determined to consist of different kinds of cells and cell layers, thanks to the invention of the light microscope. The electron microscope brought mitochondria, ribosomes, and the nucleuolus into view with incredible detail. X-ray diffraction images gave Crick and Watson the critical evidence they needed to determine the double helix structure of DNA. Should the artist have included all of these levels-of-scale in the illustration? I don’t see why that would have been necessary for an article about physics.

That said, I do have great appreciation for using colorful illustrations (and even whimsical cartoons) to summarize scientific concepts for the broadest possible audience. It has remarkable potential for communicating key information in a concise and memorable manner.

I would love to see a Peaceful Science comic strip, for both educational and entertainment purposes. (Of course, the latter purpose would be motivated by the goal of developing a larger and broader audience.)