Particle Physics II

The BaBar detector undergoing construction work | Photo: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Part Three Chapters 2, 11 and 13

̶  Giacometti was fond of saying, ‘There is only success to the extent that there is failure. The more it fails, the more it succeeds’.

The heat hums out of the oven as I open the door a touch.

̶̶  Particle physics is like that. The most interesting theory comes out of experimental failure.

̶  I was in San Francisco, attending the SLAC summer school, and—
̶  SLAC?
̶  Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre.
̶  But you’re a theorist.
̶  A theorist has to know about the physics of particle accelerators, Sprague. She has to understand just what can and cannot be done in the laboratory.
̶  Yes, of course…


̶  How did you decide to become a physicist, in fact?
̶  Through mathematics. You can discover things through mathematics. That’s exciting. Imagine, the ultimate of matter, the particles and forces that make up the universe, expressed mathematically—that’s a big turn-on.
̶  Yes, I can imagine.
̶  Imagine—that’s exactly what you’ve got to do to create concepts in physics.
̶  You’re recreating the world, Marietta, with your theory. Exciting!

Fraught with stars, my dream ceaselessly dreams me.

̶̶  Indeed!

̶  Was it in Copenhagen that you met, you and Niels?
̶  No, in Sicily. At the International School of Subnuclear Physics. I was the only woman among thirty physicists.
̶  I can imagine the electro-magnetic forces!
̶  Yeah. Poor me, all alone among the dorks looking for quarks.
̶  The strange particle!
̶  Yeah!

An aerial view of the SLAC site, looking west

Part Five Chapter 17

Truth is with the axiom and the equation, but you cannot produce randomness mathematically: Waking to wonder I watch you, my heart filled with pride. As the projector lights up the side of your face, I bathe in the beauty of your reasoning; as you place a new transparency, a shadow falls on rationality.

̶  As you know, the quantization of non-Abelian gauge theories in the noncovariant Coulomb gauge, where the divergence of the vector potential is zero, has perplexed theorists for decades.

In your skinny black jeans and houndstooth jacket, you stand hands on hips, speaking fast and fluent.

̶  I’d like to propose a new procedure for computing Feynman integrals in the noncovariant Coulomb gauge, apply the new technique to the one-loop Yang-Mills self-energy, and then check the appropriate Ward/BRS identity, and thus the value of pi a b mu nu.

Calm and confident, you are wholly in the moment, invulnerable in your familiar world. And yet the way you look at the audience askance, just as you did at the El Salvador concert, tells them you will deliver what they want, but there is a line you won’t let them cross. Why do you impose such a barrier? Why would a scientist need to take such a stance?

̶  The scalar ghost propagator reads i times delta a b over 2 pi to the power of 4 times q squared.

Your silver bangle taps on the glass of the projector as you write on the transparency; stepping back, you continue your demonstration. It’s not for nothing you’re a high-energy physicist: Left hand on hip, right hand twirling, you outline a chain of events; half-rotating your upheld hand, you ease the audience into your logic. With diagonal chops you punctuate a point; hand behind head, you ponder an explanation. Dynamic yet dignified, in one and the same movement of being you radiate intelligence and sexuality. Is that it, then? Is that what your withholding signifies? The restraint of a woman subjecting herself to the gaze of men? You who find poetry in a table of logarithms, you to whom rigour is a form of morality, Göttingen evokes not Riemann, but the Brothers Grimm: Is that why you so clearly let your audience know you have a reserve of selfhood they will never access? Sex is an equation without remainder, that nevertheless remains unresolved.

The Hydrogen Clouds of M33 |  Image © Danilo Pivato, Gimmi Ratto

Gorgeous spiral galaxy M33 seems to have more than its fair share of glowing hydrogen gas. A prominent member of the local group of galaxies, M33 is also known as the Triangulum Galaxy and lies about 3 million light-years distant. The galaxy’s inner 30,000 light-years or so are shown in this telescopic portrait that enhances its reddish ionized hydrogen clouds or HII regions. Sprawling along loose spiral arms that wind toward the core, M33’s giant HII regions are some of the largest known stellar nurseries, sites of the formation of short-lived but very massive stars. Intense ultraviolet radiation from the luminous, massive stars ionizes the surrounding hydrogen gas and ultimately produces the characteristic red glow. NASA

̶  By a Coulomb-gauge integral we mean any Feynman integral containing one or more three-dimensional factors such as one over q squared, one over q plus p squared, etc.

Theorems establish stability, abstraction eclipses the chaos of desire and transcends the vagaries of opinion. And yet, even as you celebrate the triumph of instrumental reason, you regard nature with respect and contemplation: You know too much to dominate and exploit.

̶  We analytically extend this result to four-dimensional space by taking ‘omega tends to three halfs’ and ‘sigma tends to one half’, in either order.

As you change a transparency a question comes. With grace you engage in a short exchange then, smiling, you cross your hands at the waist and sweep them apart again, ruling out any further interruption: It is you who are in command. I know, my love, that between completeness and incompleteness, certainty and conjecture, it is the singular becoming, the living particular, that you favour. But in a world of abstraction, it is the absolute and the universal, the general and the formal, that count.

So is that it, then? Is your withholding a means of compartmentalizing what you cannot make coexist in one moment? Is it your private freedom that requires your public reserve? Is it only in private that you can express, in one and the same movement, your love for Hilbert and Shakespeare, Euclid and Aeschylus, Gauss and Goethe? When the poets are forgotten the mathematicians will still be remembered: True, no doubt. But if mathematics is the means by which you honour the world, poetry is how you honour yourself.

̶  The results are encouraging, but clearly more calculations are needed before split dimensional regularization can be placed on a firm mathematical footing. Thank you very much.

As the applause breaks out you are all modesty: It is I who am beaming with pride.

So this is how, in an act of self-transcendence, you step outside yourself, this is how you testify to the dignity of the human mind. And yet, Marietta, throughout your presentation, throughout your mastery of abstract discourse, I felt your singular vulnerability, your living particularity. Is that why you’ve left me not only in wonder, but awash with love?

The Great Carina Nebula |  Image © Robert Gendler (Processing), Ryan Hannahoe (Acquisition)
Additional data from the ESO/Danish 1.5m telescope at La Silla, Chile (R.Gendler, J.-E.Ovaldsen, C.Thöne, C.Feron)

A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, also known as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy’s largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This gorgeous telescopic close-up reveals remarkable details of the region’s central glowing filaments of interstellar gas and obscuring cosmic dust clouds. The field of view is over 50 light-years across. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the stars of open cluster Trumpler 14 (below and right of center) and the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Eta Carinae is the brightest star, seen here just above the dusty Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324). While Eta Carinae itself may be on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that the Great Carina Nebula has been a veritable supernova factory. NASA