The Particle at the End of the Universe


As Carroll writes, one of the most astonishing insights of modern physics, and one of the hardest to grasp, is that sufficiently powerful symmetries give rise to forces of nature. Piecing together the broken bits to see the elegance of the underlying symmetries is “like being able to read poetry in the original language, instead of being stuck with mediocre translations”. With such difficult concepts, analogies may offer a useful insight to the non-technical reader, although they are inevitably misleading to a greater or lesser extent. Carroll came up with a good one for a television programme to explain the Higgs field. Imagine little robots scooting about on the floor of a large vacuum chamber, identical apart from the fact that they are fitted with sails of various sizes. When the space is completely evacuated the sails are irrelevant because there is no air for them to feel, so all the robots move at the same speed. When the atmosphere is let in, the robots with larger sails (greater mass) are impeded more by the air than those with smaller sails (less mass) so they move more slowly.

more from Clive Cookson at the FT here.