Friday, May 13, 2005

"High-energy physics: An emptier emptiness?" by Frank Wilczek

In Nature News & Views

A new experiment at Brookhaven using colliding gold ions provides surprising evidence about a fundamental concept in physics: the vacuum. It appears that you can get something from nothing, the vacuum is unstable and new particles can be spontaneously created in empty space. Gack.

A side view of one of the first high-energy collisions captured by the Solenoidal Tracker of the STAR detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). The initial head-on collision of two gold ions, each consisting of a total of 197 protons and neutrons, occurs at the mid-point of the central tube (running across the image from right to left). The tracks indicate the paths taken by thousands of subatomic particles created in the fireball of energy set free in these collisions. Several layers of detectors, arranged concentrically around the central tube, and encased in a powerful magnet, allow the identification of these particles. (Courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory, STAR collaboration.)


Unknown said...

Something from nothing. Wow. I think this is a very big deal. I mean, isn't that a big reason that people say there has to be a God? Because things had to come from something? And that is why they can't wrap their heads around the Big Bang as the origin of the universe? I think a lot of people will say that even those particles that were in the Big Bang's initial teaspoon of matter "had to come from somewhere"? I never found that line of "reasoning" personally compelling but it is very, very common and I hope this finding gets to widely known. Though (sniff) I doubt that it will.

Patrick said...

One of Einstein's most famous quotes was "did God have a choice in creating the universe?". In Theoretical Computer Science, there's a notion of a Universal Turing Machine(UTM) - and it's believed that all practical means of computation are equivalent, that's know as Church's Thesis. Any UTM can simulate any other UTM as well as all less powerful systems of computation. So in a certain fundamental sense, it doesn't really matter too much whether you buy a Mac or PC, since they're both realizations of a UTM. I understand it's even possible to actually run PC programs on a Mac, albeit somewhat more slowly. By analogy, one might hope that we inhabit a truly "Universal" Universe. While there might be other equally valid ways to have created a universe, perhaps it's possible to simulate these alternative universes in our Universe, at least if someone gives George Lucas a big enough budget. So while God may have created us a Mac universe, while we wished he had gotten us a PC, that may not turn out to be as important as it may have seemed, once we understand the big picture. Or something.