Physics in a nutshell

Edwin Abbott’s 1884 book “Flatland” describes in a very easy to understand way the idea of additional dimensions. Extra dimensions pop up again and again in science fiction. For instance, an episode of Star Trek portrays a bearded Spock in a malevolent parallel universe. The idea of evil twins is pretty absurd, so how likely is that extra dimensions are a reality? This scenario makes for an excellent plot device, but the idea of extra dimensions in physics has a…

Edwin Abbott’s 1884 book Flatland describes in a very easy to understand way the idea of additional dimensions. Extra dimensions pop up again and again in science fiction. For instance, an episode of Star Trek portrays a bearded Spock in a malevolent parallel universe. The idea of evil twins is pretty absurd, so how likely is that extra dimensions are a reality? This scenario makes for an excellent plot device, but the idea of extra dimensions in physics has a…

This painting of the Milky Way galaxy is really quite misleading. Scientists believe that this beautiful spectacle makes up only a fraction of the mass of the galaxy. We scientists have good reason to seriously believe that there is a totally invisible kind of matter in the universe that is about five times more common than the matter with which we are familiar. As an analogy, that’s like inviting a friend over for dinner with you and believing he brings…

The origin of mass in the universe has been worked out. Luckily it’s not just the much-maligned donut. If you have even the faintest interest in particle physics, you’ve heard about the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is the leading candidate explanation for the origin of the masses of point-like subatomic particles. By extension, the Higgs boson is the origin of mass in the universe, right? There’s only one problem with that statement–it’s totally wrong. To clarify, I’m now talking…

All scientific measurements are based on an incomplete access to information, such as this small sample of marbles from a larger pool. Read any news article about the search for new physics and you’ll quickly see the word “certainty.” It describes the probability that an observation means a discovery, rather than just a fluke. But what does that really mean? To understand scientific certainty, there are a couple of ideas to discuss. The first one is quite shocking–almost every measurement…

The Standard Model is a triumph of modern physics. With this handful of particles shown here, we can explain all of the matter we have encountered, from atoms to entire galaxies. Editor’s note: “Physics in a Nutshell” is a new feature of Fermilab Today. In this column, Fermilab’s Don Lincoln will define one commonly used term in physics. If you want a particular phrase defined or have a question, please email Fermilab Today. The Standard Model. It’s really a peculiar…