|Xiaolin Zeng for Quanta Magazine|
Particle collisions are somehow linked to mathematical “motives."
Topics: Large Hadron Collider, LHC, Particle Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Richard Feynman, Research
An unexpected connection has emerged between the results of physics experiments and an important, seemingly unrelated set of numbers in pure mathematics.
At the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, physicists shoot protons around a 17-mile track and smash them together at nearly the speed of light. It’s one of the most finely tuned scientific experiments in the world, but when trying to make sense of the quantum debris, physicists begin with a strikingly simple tool called a Feynman diagram that’s not that different from how a child would depict the situation.
Feynman diagrams were devised by Richard Feynman in the 1940s. They feature lines representing elementary particles that converge at a vertex (which represents a collision) and then diverge from there to represent the pieces that emerge from the crash. Those lines either shoot off alone or converge again. The chain of collisions can be as long as a physicist dares to consider.
To that schematic physicists then add numbers, for the mass, momentum and direction of the particles involved. Then they begin a laborious accounting procedure — integrate these, add that, square this. The final result is a single number, called a Feynman probability, which quantifies the chance that the particle collision will play out as sketched.
“In some sense Feynman invented this diagram to encode complicated math as a bookkeeping device,” said Sergei Gukov, a theoretical physicist and mathematician at the California Institute of Technology.
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