Posted by: Grandma LaLa | April 27, 2014

Top 4 learnings from the FNAL lecture: particle physics

What a great lecture on particle physics, presented last evening by Dr. Nigel Lockyer of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.  These public events are so stimulating.  What a gift to have such brilliant and talented scientists working in our neighborhood!

Particle physics isn’t my thing and really hasn’t ever been.  So there’s substantially more that I don’t know than what I do know.  Four things I learned last evening.

  1. Oscillation – The B_s meson (quark/antiquark) actually flips between matter and anti-matter.  The spontaneous oscillation occurs three trillion times per second!  This was scientifically established at Fermi in 2006.  The decay of matter into anti-matter and of anti-matter into matter isn’t quite equal, which may explain the ratio of matter to anti-matter in the observed cosmos.
  2. Analytic truths – Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence started, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.”  Ben Franklin revised this assertion from synthetic truth to analytic truth by changing it to read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”  I wasn’t really sure how that portion of the discussion linked to the particle physics.  I’m still not sure. With further deliberation, for me the discovered oscillation of the B_s meson and other quarks shifts the concept of what constitutes a particle.  I still think of a particle as a concrete and virtually unchanging thing that couldn’t be the same thing at each extreme of the oscillation.  That’s the “billiard ball” approach to physics – old school.  That’s an analytic assumption about the language of physics, called entirely into question by the synthetic evidence from the FNAL accelerator.
  3. Neutrinos – OK, I have to admit that I thought neutrinos were baby neutrons. LOL.  Of the particles known and named, it seems that we know the least about neutrinos.  And they don’t behave in ways consistent with that of other particles interacting with the Higgs field.  Neutrinos have very tiny mass and very little interaction with/in matter.  That’s what makes them so challenging to detect.
  4. NOvA – The NOvA experiment involves neutrino research, using liquid argon as the scintillator.  The particle beam originates in our neighborhood and travels to a local “near” detector and on to a “far” detector in Minnesota.  The first detection of neutrinos occurred just two months ago.  Amazing!  Research continues to investigate whether neutrino oscillation has a charge-parity violation (which helps to explain the abundance of matter vs anti-matter).

Twenty-four hours later, that’s the best I can do to summarize this impressive lecture.  Obviously, it wouldn’t withstand the critique of a physicist ~ nor likely pass a high school test these days.  It’s definitely time for me to go “back to school” on particle physics.

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