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Flip Tanedo | USLHC | USA

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CERN mug summarizes Standard Model, but is off by a factor of 2

Last month had the unique pleasure of making my first trip to CERN (more on that in a later post). I made a point to stop by the CERN gift shop to pick up a snazzy mug to show off to my colleagues back in the US, and am now the proud owner of a new vessel for my tea:

My brand new "Standard Model Lagrangian" mug from CERN.

The equation above is the Standard Model Lagrangian, which you can think of as the origin of all of the Feynman rules that I keep writing about. Each term on the right-hand side of the above equation actually encodes several Feynman rules. Roughly speaking, terms with an F or a D contain gauge fields (photon, W, Z, gluon), terms with a ψ include fermions, and terms with a ϕ include the Higgs boson. Some representative diagrams coming from each of the terms are depicted below:

Representative Feynman rules coming from each term in the Lagrangian.

But alas, there’s a bit of a problem with the design. It appears that there’s an extra term which isn’t included in the usual parametrization of the Standard Model:

This term really shouldn't be here. It's not necessarily "wrong," but it is misleading and doesn't match what is written in textbooks. Technically, it is not `canonically normalized.'

I won’t go so far as to call this a mistake because technically it’s not wrong, but I suspect that whoever designed the mug didn’t mean to write this term. Let me put it this way: if I had written the above expression, my adviser would pretend he didn’t know me. The “h.c.” means Hermitian conjugate, which is a generalization of the complex conjugate of a complex number. In terms of Feynman diagrams, this “+h.c.” term means “the same diagram with antiparticles.”

The problem is that the term above,


already
includes its Hermitian conjugate. In physics-speak, we say that the kinetic term is self-conjugate (or Hermitian, or self-adjoint). This just means that there is no additional “+h.c.” necessary. In fact, including the “+h.c.” means that you are writing the same term twice and the equation is no longer “canonically normalized.” This just means that you ought to rescale some of your variables.

I was mulling over this not-quite-correct term on my mug while looking over photos from CERN when I discovered the same ‘error’ in a chalkboard display in the “Universe of Particles” exhibit:

Display at the "Universe of Particles" exhibit in The Globe of Science and Innovation at CERN.

The “+h.c.” on the top right is the same ‘error’ as printed on the CERN mug. I wonder who wrote this?

To be clear: this expression does summarize the basic structure of the Standard Model in the sense that it does give all of the correct Feynman rules. However, the extra “+h.c.” introduces a factor of two that needs to be accounted for by weird conventions elsewhere (that would not match any of the usual literature or textbooks).

Nit picky remarks for experts. It is worth noting that the above expression does get one thing absolutely right: it writes everything in terms of Weyl (two-component) fermions, as appropriate for a chiral theory like the Standard Model. One can see that these as Weyl fermions because the Yukawa term contains two un-barred fermions (the “+h.c.” gives two barred fermions). Note that even for Weyl fermions, one shouldn’t have a “+h.c.” on the kinetic term. In fact, I would typically write the D-slash with a bar since it contains a barred Pauli matrix, but this is a matter of personal convention. The “+h.c.” is not “personal convention” since it means the kinetic term is not canonically normalized.

Anyone who has done tedious physics calculations is familiar with the frequent agony of being off by a factor of 2. Now when people make remarks about this ‘error’ on my mug, I’m quick to tell them that the factor of 2 mistake just makes it more authentic.

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