THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Santhosh Mathew, PhD Headshot

We, The Children of Violation

Posted: Updated:
Print

In our everyday life, violations of enforced law result in tickets and can often advance to more intricate situations. However, physicists point to the violation of a physical law to billions of years ago that eventually led the creation of everything including us. We are essentially the children of that violation.

Physicists believe that at some point in the early moments of our universe a symmetry violation occurred, paving the way for matter to win over antimatter particles. As time progressed, this triumphant matter manifested in different forms such as stars, planets, life and people. In that sense, we are obliged to this violation that prompted even our own existence.

The latest results from experiments provide clues to understanding this violation. Recently, scientists at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) reported the findings of their research carried out in the 2.4 mile particle collider located in Upton, NY. This "atom smasher" re-creates the conditions similar to that which existed in the early universe. The data from the RHIC experiments fascinatingly points to a possible parity violation in strong interactions that binds the quarks and gluons.

Subatomic particles such as neutrons and protons are actually complex in nature. Both of these nucleons are composed of three quarks and gluons which bind the quarks together. At the RHIC experiment, quarks and gluons are ripped from their parent nuclei to create a hot soup of quark-gluon plasma. Physicists believe that matter existed in a physical state identical to this in the universe micro seconds after Big Bang.

Researchers re-create this condition at RHIC by using high energy collisions of gold nuclei. The resulting temperature of their latest experiment measured 4 trillion degrees Celsius -- the hottest temperature ever attained in the laboratory. The liberated quarks and gluons behaved more like a liquid with considerable cooperation among them. This "new material" and their properties might be hiding the secrets of our cosmic origin.

The standard model of particle physics demands a symmetry known as charge -parity (CP) to be conserved in the universe. The laws of physics must remain invariant for particles under charge exchange (C symmetry) or left and right swapping (P symmetry). This implies our world is indistinguishable from its mirror image. However, parity violation has been identified in weak interactions such as beta decay from the 1950's.

The strong interaction that operates between quarks and gluons oppose parity violations under ordinary conditions. The data from the RHIC experiments intriguingly points to a possible parity violation in strong interactions. This cannot be perceived as breaking the known laws of physics since these very same laws predicted such effects. Yet, it may be helpful to learn more about the earliest violation that shaped our cosmic history.

According to our current understanding, there existed equal number of particles and anti particles in the early universe. Equal numbers of matter and antimatter particles completely annihilate each other to produce energy and conserve symmetry. Yet, we know that in our universe matter dominates antimatter.

If this symmetry had never been broken, the matter and antimatter would have completely annihilated each other leaving the whole universe with pure energy. Though scientists will not be able to explain the global dominance of matter over antimatter with the information from their latest results, it will definitely assist them in probing that direction.

In fact, physicists celebrate when the laws of nature are violated. For when this happens, it provides physicists an opportunity to search for a deeper understanding of nature. As a result, new concepts and theories of physics can emerge.

The increased understanding attained about the quark -- gluon interactions in the RHIC experiments will assist the scientists to probe further deep and transfer the gained knowledge to LHC experiments at CERN, where much higher energy collisions are set to begin in coming months.

Once the imprints of broken symmetry become evident, we can reconstruct the puzzles of our early cosmic history. That would further underscore the significance of symmetry violation in the cosmic creation.

People often ask, "Why do we pump billions of dollars into these high energy experiments? Who cares about quarks and gluons?"

The usual answer is "trying to answer the fundamental questions", which sounds like a cliché. That seems pleasing to scientists but not for taxpayers.

The truth is that the technological spin-offs from these experiments are present in our everyday life; from superconducting materials used in maglev trains to PET scans in our hospitals -- all bear a common thread. Their origins can be traced back to these experiments.

Even the modern day World Wide Web was born of out necessity in particle experiments.
So let the scientists "Aim for the stars "and maybe we will reach the sky.

From Our Partners