Simplify the Universe

Particle interactions calculated with a single term all done by hand?! That’s crazy. In case you have nothing to base calculating particle interactions in quantum field theory on, just imagine having thousands of puzzle pieces scattered everywhere to suddenly, without all the pesky pieces, having a single, unified picture. All it takes is some new thinking and a little geometry.

In this new model, physicists describe the universe by an amplituhedron, an infinite-dimensional geometric object. The volume of this object is equal to the scattering amplitude—the holy grail of particle physics—which physicists at the Large Hadron Collider use to describe particle interactions. In some amplituhedrons the amplitudes can be calculated directly. In others diagrams called “twistors” are needed.

What’s more, they’ve found the solution to everything. The volume of an infinite-sided “master amplituhedron” represents the amplitudes of all physical processes. The italics are supposed to impress you. Interactions between a finite number of processes, what us humans normally consider, are contained on various faces. Interesting to me, but probably not to anyone else, is that the master amplituhedron simplifies to a circle in 2D.


Amplituhedron representing an 8-gluon particle interaction, which normally needs ~500 pages of algebra.

The amplituhedron removes locality and unitarity. Particles that aren’t near either other in space or time can interact (what?) and the sum of the probabilities for all possible particle positions doesn’t have to be 1 (what?!). That works out for gravity though, which explodes—yes, explodes—in equations with locality and unitarity. Connecting gravity to particle physics is a big deal—no one’s been able to do it yet. Jacob Bourjaily, one of the researchers, described this method as “a starting point to ultimately describing a quantum theory of gravity.”

Nima Arkani-Hamed, the lead author (the main man, the head honcho), gave a talk about amplituhedrons at the SUSY 2013 conference, which is posted online. Warning: the talk is very technical, but interesting nonetheless (if only to watch a man in shorts and a shirt two sizes too large give a spitfire professional talk). Although, in the talk he says amplituhedrons can be “explained to a smart junior high school student,” which left me feeling like a stupid graduate student.

The Next Generation (of Science Standards) to Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

As I’m sure many people will point out today and in the coming weeks,the Next Generation Science Standards has been released. The plan sets forth standard teaching practices and subjects for K-12 students, which (unbeknownst to me) was previously unstandardized. Twenty-six states have agreed to follow the plan, including my current state of Georgia, but not my home state Florida. The campaign was carried out entirely by the states with no federal aid—an accomplishment in its own right—and there is no mandate for the other twenty-four states to adopt the lesson plans.

As Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Cheif of Science and a proponent of NGSS, says, “We must teach out students to do something in science class, not to memorize facts.”

Some conservatives are worried by thought of teaching children about evolution and climate change, especially in Kansas and Texas, but many are excited about the curriculum. Last year, Barbara argill, the Republican chairwoman of Texas’ State Board of Education, said there was a “zero percent chance” of Texas adopting the plan. Other organizations, mostly science-based, are excited for the plan.

“This is revolutionary in many respects,” Michael Wysession, one of the scientists who helped with writing the standards, said. “First of all, it is incredible to have most states in the country adopting a single standard. Having each state do its own thing has been really detrimental to the science and engineering education of this country and this is a tremendous step forward.”

I, personally, am very excited about the new approach for teaching science. I have long thought that current methods weren’t reaching students. Even into college, I thought chemistry was boring because previously I had been given a list of facts and scientist names to memorize and regurgitate on a test. Hopefully, the standards will not only help understanding but boost interest as well. Now if only there were standards set in place for teaching mathematics, we’d regain our position on the forefront of science.