The Standard Model

“In 1967, Weinberg published a seminal paper laying out how two of the universe’s four fundamental forces — electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force — relate as part of a unified electroweak force. “A Model of Leptons,” at barely three pages, predicted properties of elementary particles that at that time had never before been observed (the W, Z and Higgs boson) and theorized that “neutral weak currents” dictated how elementary particles interact with one another. Later experiments, including the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, would bear out each of his predictions.”

That’s from the UT News obituary to Steven Weinberg (1933 – 2021), who passed away in Austin TX on July 23rd. A bit more from it:

By showing the unifying links behind weak forces and electromagnetism, which were previously believed to be completely different, Weinberg delivered the first pillar of the Standard Model, the half-century-old theory that explains particles and three of the four fundamental forces in the universe (the fourth being gravity). As critical as the model is in helping physical scientists understand the order driving everything from the first minutes after the Big Bang to the world around us, Weinberg continued to pursue, alongside other scientists, dreams of a “final theory” that would concisely and effectively explain current unknowns about the forces and particles in the universe, including gravity.

Weinberg wrote hundreds of scientific articles about general relativity, quantum field theory, cosmology and quantum mechanics, as well as numerous popular articles, reviews and books. His books include “To Explain the World,” “Dreams of a Final Theory,” “Facing Up,” and “The First Three Minutes.” Weinberg often was asked in media interviews to reflect on his atheism and how it related to the scientific insights he described in his books.

“If there is no point in the universe that we discover by the methods of science, there is a point that we can give the universe by the way we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art,” he once told PBS. “Although we are not the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama we’re starring in is one that we are making up as we go along, it is not entirely ignoble that faced with this unloving, impersonal universe we make a little island of warmth and love and science and art for ourselves.”

Physics is one of my favorite subjects — the others being philosophy, engineering and mathematics. Weinberg was one of the towering physics geniuses of the last century. Fortunately there are heaps of videos of his interviews on YouTube. I will provide some links to my favorite bits later. For now, here’s a brilliant concise explanation of the Standard Model.

A few quotes from Steven Weinberg.

“The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.”

“All logical arguments can be defeated by the simple refusal to reason logically.”

“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

“One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment.”

“I think enormous harm is done by religion – not just in the name of religion, but actually by religion. … Many people do simply awful things out of sincere religious belief, not using religion as a cover the way that Saddam Hussein may have done, but really because they believe that this is what God wants them to do, going all the way back to Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac because God told him to do that. Putting God ahead of humanity is a terrible thing.”

RIP, Prof Weinberg.



Author: Atanu Dey


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