This article appeared in symmetry on Oct. 21, 2014.
So you haven’t picked a Halloween costume, and the big night is fast approaching. If you’re looking for something a little funny, a little nerdy and sure to impress fellow physics fans, look no further. We’ve got you covered.
1. Dark energy
This is an active costume, perfect for the party-goer who plans to consume a large quantity of sugar. Suit up in all black or camouflage, then spend your evening squeezing between people and pushing them apart.
Congratulations! You’re dark energy: a mysterious force causing the accelerating expansion of the universe, intriguing in the lab and perplexing on the dance floor.
2. Cosmic inflation
Theory says that a fraction of a second after the big bang, the universe grew exponentially, expanding so that tiny fluctuations were stretched into the seeds of entire galaxies.
But good luck getting that costume through the door.
Instead, take a simple yellow life vest and draw the cosmos on it: stars, planets, asteroids, whatever you fancy. When friends pull on the emergency tab, the universe will grow.
3. Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
Here’s a great excuse to repurpose your topical Breaking Bad costume from last year.
Walter White—aka “Heisenberg”—may have been a chemistry teacher, but the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is straight out of physics. Named after Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist credited with the creation of quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that the more accurately you know the position of a particle, the less information you know about its momentum.
Put on Walter White’s signature hat and shades (or his yellow suit and respirator), but then add some uncertainty by pasting Riddler-esque question marks to your outfit.
4. Bad neutrino
A warning upfront: Only the ambitious and downright extroverted should attempt this costume.
Neutrinos are ghostly particles that pass through most matter undetected. In fact, trillions of neutrinos pass through your body every second without your knowledge.
But you aren’t going to go as any old neutrino. Oh no. You’re a bad neutrino—possibly the worst one in the universe—so you run into everything: lampposts, trees, haunted houses and yes, people. Don a simple white sheet and spend the evening interacting with everyone and everything.
5. Your favorite physics experiment
You physics junkies know that there are a lot of experiments with odd acronyms and names that are ripe for Halloween costumes. You can go as ATLAS (experiment at the Large Hadron Collider / character from Greek mythology), DarkSide (dark matter experiment at Gran Sasso National Laboratory / good reason to repurpose your Darth Vader costume), PICASSO (dark matter experiment at SNOLAB / creator of Cubism), MINERvA (Fermilab neutrino experiment / Roman goddess of wisdom), or the Dark Energy Survey (dark energy camera located at the Blanco Telescope in Chile / good opportunity for a pun).
Physics-loving parents can go as explorer Daniel Boone, while the kids go as neutrino experiments MicroBooNE and MiniBooNE. The kids can wear mini fur hats of their own or dress as detector tanks to be filled with candy.
6. Feynman diagram
You might know that a Feynman diagram is a drawing that uses lines and squiggles to represent a particle interaction. But have you ever noticed that they sometimes look like people? Try out this new take on the black outfit/white paint skeleton costume. Bonus points for going as a penguin diagram.
Break out the bell-bottoms and poster board. In bold letters, scrawl the words of your choosing: “I hate things!,” “Stuff is awful!,” and “Down with quarks!” will all do nicely. Protest from house to house and declare with pride that you are antimatter. It’s a fair critique: Physicists still aren’t sure why matter dominates the universe when equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created in the big bang.
Fortunately, you don’t have to solve this particular puzzle on your quest for candy. Just don’t high five anyone; you might annihilate.
8. Entangled particles
Einstein described quantum entanglement as “spooky action at a distance”—the perfect costume for Halloween. Entangled particles are extremely strange. Measuring one automatically determines the state of the other, instantaneously.
Find someone you are extremely in tune with and dress in opposite colors, like black and white. When no one is observing you, you can relax. But when interacting with people, be sure to coordinate movements. They spin to the left, you spin to the right. They wave with the right hand? You wave with the left. You get the drill.
You can also just wrap yourselves together in a net. No one said quantum entanglement has to be hard.
9. Holographic you(niverse)
The universe may be like a hologram, according to a theory currently being tested at Fermilab’s Holometer experiment. If so, information about spacetime is chunked into 2-D bits that only appear three-dimensional from our perspective.
Help others imagine this bizarre concept by printing out a photo of yourself and taping it to your front. You’ll still technically be 3-D, but that two-dimensional picture of your face will still start some interesting discussions. Perhaps best not to wear this if you have a busy schedule or no desire to discuss the nature of time and space while eating a Snickers.
10. Your favorite particle
There are many ways to dress up as a fundamental particle. Bring a lamp along to trick-or-treat to go as the photon, carrier of light. Hand out cookies to go as the Higgs boson, giver of mass. Spend the evening attaching things to people to go as a gluon.
To branch out beyond the Standard Model of particle physics, go as a supersymmetric particle, or sparticle: Wear a gladiator costume and shout, “I am Sparticle!” whenever someone asks about your costume.
Or grab a partner to become a meson, a particle made of a quark and antiquark. Mesons are typically unstable, so whenever you unlink arms, be sure to decay in a shower of electrons and neutrinos—or candy corn.