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Vivian O'Dell | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

On the Utility of Super-Electrons

I don’t exactly have the least procrastination-free relationship with Life Beyond Physics. Ok, ok, so I’m the kind of person who wouldn’t mop the floor until I can see footprints on it. Bureaucratic documents? What is they? So long as the first lines don’t promise me incarceration and/or destitution, uhm, well…

However I must say that when EDF threatened to stop power from flowing into my home a couple of weeks ago, my response was immediate. What would I do if my computer won’t turn on? What will I eat? And — the first thought that entered my head — I really, really don’t want to chop firewood in order to bathe.

Having eventually persuaded EDF that they should take my money (really, I do insist), and resumed the life of a halfway normal physicist, I did spare a shudder for how duly proud we scientists are of the electron and how we squeezed this stuff called electricity out of it. It is such a well-behaved little particle — doesn’t break up no matter how hard it’s hit, easy to find, easy to manipulate, has a mathematically beautiful and complete theory, and wow, we actually get plenty of day-to-day use out of it! But in the meanwhile, we’ve gone on to decompose the universe into at least 16 types of particle fields, and one major ambition of the current generation is to find evidence of a “super-symmetric” mirror copy of the above Standard Model.

The LHC may very well find the super-electron. But this one will likely disintegrate before we so much as look at it, has eluded nearly half a decade of scrutiny, and the hypothetical model to which it belongs has so many unknowns that it’s pretty much a betting game as to where we should look. And if you were to ask me how far in the future I’d imagine humans might start using super-electrons in our not-so-daily lives, I can only think to quibble something about space-age and the indirect benefits of pure research.

A question for my phenomenologist counterparts — do we really need such a complicated (and growing) particle zoo to run life as we know it? Is it possible to have a universe with atoms and celestial bodies and maybe a few squishy organic beings, with only three fundamental particles just like we thought we had it all worked out, once upon a time?

  • Didi Mousse

    >> do we really need such a complicated (and growing) particle zoo to run life as we know it?…

    Byte your tongue! If you’re tempted to think that the standard model has become too awkward, you can always join us Leibnizians (?)who realize this was all worked out almost 300 years ago. We believe that ultimately, everything is going to reduce to the Monad.


    If you read a little Descartes in school, and are nervous about dualism and the whole mind-body thing, worry not. Pre-established Harmony not only fixes this metaphysical conundrum, but also doubles as a grand unification theory (honest!) Pay no attention to phenomenologists, especially those Heidegger nuts…just a bunch of lazy nihilists.

    So keep up the good work! Were depending upon you all to champion order and harmony in the universe, and prove that its not ‘turtles all the way down.’ 🙂

  • Well, given that just about everything which isn’t “dark” seems to be made out of the first generation of quarks and leptons, it appears that the answer is a resounding “perhaps”. My guess is that we need to know more about CP-violation before we can say that three quark generations are necessary.

  • Steve

    but isn’t it fun (or scary) to think about it…
    Q: What makes the structure of the periodic table, and therefore Chemistry etc etc?
    A: that the electron is a fermion
    Q: What if it weren’t?
    A: Hmm, No Pauli exclusion principle…what would atoms look like?

  • Harbles

    Hi Sue Ann,

    I have to ask about the artwork in your series of posts.
    It’s very cool. Is it your own creation? If you have posted about it elsewhere just point me.

    Hopefully your work in science will help make a ‘Mr. Fusion’ machine so a few black banana peels and some coffee grounds would power you though the winter and keep the LHC running too.

  • Sue Ann Koay

    To Didi: 😀 I guess I couldn’t honestly be absolved of philosophical tendencies since the disturbing age of 12… but the turtles thing really, really, really bothered me when I first took Philosophy 101.

    To Blake and Steve: I actually wanted to do away with quarks too, and who cares about muonic atoms? i.e. fundamentals = {proton, neutron, electron}. The dark matter/energy is a good point though. Might need it around to keep galaxies from flying apart or something… although human life is such a tiny blip on the universe’s time-scale, we might quite blissfully exist in ignorance of such depressing final states.

    To Harbles: I think in pictures (yes, even Math and Physics), but can only wish that I had half the technical ability of artists I see around deviantart etc. However if you’re talking about the weirdness factor if my drawings, yup that happens to be 100% Sue Ann. I don’t draw enough to justify keeping another site though, and let’s not discuss my utter uselessness in any of the mechanical aspects of getting the LHC up on its feet this year. ;-P

  • JJ

    Rule #1 of life: the universe wasn’t made with you in mind.