“I have no doubt,” said J. B. S. Haldane, “that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine.”
And the existence of this wondrous bit of Shimmer Incarnate is pretty doggone surprising:
Just what is that?
Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.
The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like “amplituhedron,” which yields an equivalent one-term expression.
Needless to say, it took some serious number-crunching to find this all-purpose object, and I have to figure that Richard Feynman would have been delighted:
Encoded in its volume are the most basic features of reality that can be calculated, “scattering amplitudes,” which represent the likelihood that a certain set of particles will turn into certain other particles upon colliding. These numbers are what particle physicists calculate and test to high precision at particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.
The 60-year-old method for calculating scattering amplitudes — a major innovation at the time — was pioneered by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. He sketched line drawings of all the ways a scattering process could occur and then summed the likelihoods of the different drawings.
There was just one little hang-up with this method:
A seemingly simple event, such as two subatomic particles called gluons colliding to produce four less energetic gluons (which happens billions of times a second during collisions at the Large Hadron Collider), involves 220 [of Feynman's] diagrams, which collectively contribute thousands of terms to the calculation of the scattering amplitude.
The idea that all these things can be contained in a single object — a spectacularly complex object, yes, but still just one object — is hugely overwhelming yet deeply satisfying: there might actually be something resembling order governing the wild quantum frontier.
(Via Daily Pundit. Illustration by Andy Gilmore.)