(Roughly) Daily

“I have not yet lost a feeling of wonder, and of delight, that the delicate motion should reside in all the things around us”*…

The proton, the positively charged particle at the heart of the atom, is an object of unspeakable complexity, one that changes its appearance depending on how it is probed…

“This is the most complicated thing that you could possibly imagine,” said Mike Williams, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In fact, you can’t even imagine how complicated it is.”

The proton is a quantum mechanical object that exists as a haze of probabilities until an experiment forces it to take a concrete form. And its forms differ drastically depending on how researchers set up their experiment. Connecting the particle’s many faces has been the work of generations. “We’re kind of just starting to understand this system in a complete way,” said Richard Milner, a nuclear physicist at MIT.

As the pursuit continues, the proton’s secrets keep tumbling out. Most recently, a monumental data analysis published in August found that the proton contains traces of particles called charm quarks that are heavier than the proton itself.

The proton “has been humbling to humans,” Williams said. “Every time you think you kind of have a handle on it, it throws you some curveballs.”

Recently, Milner, together with Rolf Ent at Jefferson Lab, MIT filmmakers Chris Boebel and Joe McMaster, and animator James LaPlante, set out to transform a set of arcane plots that compile the results of hundreds of experiments into a series of animations of the shape-shifting proton…

Charlie Wood (and Merrill Sherman) have incorporated that work into an attempt to unveil the particle’s secrets: “Inside the Proton, the ‘Most Complicated Thing You Could Possibly Imagine’,” from @walkingthedot in @QuantaMagazine.

* Edmund Burke


As we ponder presumptive paradoxes, we might send insightful birthday greetings to David Schramm; he was born on this date in 1945. A theoretical astrophysicist, he established the field of particle astrophysics, a branch of particle physics that studies elementary particles of astronomical origin and their relation to astrophysics and cosmology. He was particularly well known for the study of Big Bang nucleosynthesis and its use as a probe of dark matter and of neutrinos. And he made important contributions to the study of cosmic rays, supernova explosions, heavy-element nucleosynthesis, and nuclear astrophysics generally.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 25, 2022 at 1:00 am

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