Monday, February 11, 2008

Welcome back

Hey folks, hope you guys had a fantastic break. It was good getting to meet a bunch of you while I was in town. As for me, I’m back in Europe and I’ve had a couple of weeks to goof around and even get a little work done. More goofing around than work so far, though.

Anyway, back to the blog. Last semester we talked about special relativity and quantum mechanics, so I suppose it’s time to move on. Hopefully you enjoyed the stuff about QM; there’s some fairly crazy nonsense that goes on there. In my opinion, it’s much weirder than special relativity, but it’s also quite a bit more involved (mathematically speaking).

With those two things out of the way, I’d like to move on to something that’s particularly interesting to me: particle physics. You see, those subjects are both very interesting, but no one really “does” special relativity or quantum mechanics (or at least, not very many people). People write textbooks about them all the time, but you’d have to look pretty hard to find a paper published or a seminar given about them, because they’re no longer at the forefront of physics. In fact, they’re usually not viewed as proper theories at all, but rather frameworks, tools people use to do physics. It’s a bit like learning to play chess: knowing how the pieces move is not the same as being able to play the game. It’s certainly a prerequisite; you can’t even begin to play unless you know the rules, but it’s not enough all by itself.

If special relativity and quantum mechanics are the rules, then particle physics is the game. The object of the game is to figure out the fundamental building blocks of the universe, and it has occupied the minds of some of the most magnificent thinkers of the past hundred years. My goal over the next few weeks is to give you a sense of the “lay of the land”; some idea of what we know, and what we think we know, and what we definitely don’t know, about how the universe really works.

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