The Naked Scientists

The Naked Scientists Forum

Author Topic: Should Theoretical particle physicists and String theorists learn chemistry?  (Read 13362 times)

Offline Soul Surfer

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 3345
  • keep banging the rocks together
    • View Profile
    • ian kimber's web workspace
A lot of studies related to the origins of our physical laws relate to symmetry breaking as the temperature cool down from the big bang.   This is like a phase change in which structure and rules condense out of an amorphous state.

Theoretical particle physicists and String theorists tend to assume that this process is random and the laws can settle how they like.  This might be because this makes the problem much more tractable but it leads to a vast number of possible models from which it is almost impossible to identify the route that could lead to a universe with properties similar to ours and they therefor tend to think that in a "multiverse" our universe is very improbable. 

However chemists have been studying processes like this in detail at the quantum level for many years when they look at the physical chemistry of condensed matter.  They would tell you that this symmetry breaking process is far from random and relates strongly to the stability and longevity of the potential resulting structures.  This could mean that complex universes like ours are far from rare but almost inevitable. 

Isn't it time therefore that our Theoretical particle physicists and String theorists learned a bit more from the chemists.


 

Offline CliffordK

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 6321
  • Thanked: 3 times
  • Site Moderator
    • View Profile
Isn't that asking a lot to have their theories based in reality, rather than just mind games about whether a cat is half dead or half alive?  Did they actually remember to feed the cat?

I believe in a multi-disciplinary approach to science, and can imagine the benefits of a particle physicist at least understanding the latest shell theories in Chemistry, as well as understanding basic concepts like bond strength and length as well as REDOX. 

I can vaguely remember lots of specific O-Chem reactions which would only be necessary if one is actually doing things like transesterification.

Another point is that not everyone will be working in a theoretical think-tank.  So, a broad background would certainly help an individual's overall marketability.
 

Offline JP

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 3366
  • Thanked: 2 times
    • View Profile
Common tools in one field are often the source of advances when someone realizes they can be applied in another.  However, there is already a lot of crossover between physics and chemistry.  One of my graduate courses was supposed to be in quantum field theory (the precursor to string theory), but we ended up studying phase transitions since they happen to use a lot of the same mathematical tools. 

One area that's relevant to the point you make about symmetry breaking is ferromagnetism, in which the mathematical models are similar to symmetry breaking in quantum field theory.  Since string theory grew out from quantum field theory, I expect some of these ideas have entered into string theory. 
 

Offline JP

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 3366
  • Thanked: 2 times
    • View Profile
Isn't that asking a lot to have their theories based in reality, rather than just mind games about whether a cat is half dead or half alive?  Did they actually remember to feed the cat?

Ah, I see you've been reading my latest grant proposal, then.
 

Offline Phractality

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 523
  • Thanked: 1 times
    • View Profile
A football coach doesn't have to know the anatomy of a blade of grass on the field. A psychoanalist doesn't have to know political science. A clothing manufacturer doesn't have to know how to grow cotton. A building contractor doesn't have to know how to make nuts and bolts.

Chemicals are strange attractors in a soup of atoms. Atoms are strange attractors in a soup of quarks and leptons. Quarks and leptons are strange attractors in a soup of unknown substance. All physical scientists need to understand chaos, but they don't need to study every level of chaos.
 

Offline yor_on

  • Naked Science Forum GOD!
  • *******
  • Posts: 11987
  • Thanked: 4 times
  • (Ah, yes:) *a table is always good to hide under*
    • View Profile
I think it's a good idea with a mixed environment myself. It gets the mind going :)
 

Offline Soul Surfer

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 3345
  • keep banging the rocks together
    • View Profile
    • ian kimber's web workspace
Thank you for your interesting replies.

I my career as a research engineer and professional inventor in industry at the core of a large conglomerate company it has been my job many times to briefly join groups people who have been working in R & D for many years in subsidiary companies and their thinking has gone stale, with the aim of waking them up to new ideas which have often come from different disciplines and technologies.  This is usually a singularly thankless task but does often have positive outcomes.

I currently see the growing points of physics and cosmology heve been stultified by beating good mathematical models to death using computers and feel that something is needed to introduce a little more physical insight into the thinking.  This question is intended to "throw a brick in the pond"  I would expect a range of positive and negative responses and look forward to seeing some more.
 

Offline Geezer

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 8328
  • "Vive la résistance!"
    • View Profile
This question is intended to "throw a brick in the pond"  I would expect a range of positive and negative responses and look forward to seeing some more.

Throwing bricks (ponds are OK, but windows are even better) is one of my particular talents!

The reason I enjoy this forum so much is because its members have such a broad range of knowledge, and any subject is likely to turn up an amazing range of perspectives. Sometimes questions that appear to have "obvious" answers have anything but obvious answers.

I think it's a very good idea for everyone to get a long way from their "comfort zone" now and again. This is a good place to do it!

(The Legal Department has advised that any "bricks" referenced in this post are metaphorical bricks.) 
 

Offline imatfaal

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2787
  • rouge moderator
    • View Profile
Thank you for your interesting replies.

I my career as a research engineer and professional inventor in industry at the core of a large conglomerate company it has been my job many times to briefly join groups people who have been working in R & D for many years in subsidiary companies and their thinking has gone stale, with the aim of waking them up to new ideas which have often come from different disciplines and technologies.  This is usually a singularly thankless task but does often have positive outcomes.

I currently see the growing points of physics and cosmology heve been stultified by beating good mathematical models to death using computers and feel that something is needed to introduce a little more physical insight into the thinking.  This question is intended to "throw a brick in the pond"  I would expect a range of positive and negative responses and look forward to seeing some more.

SSurfer - I tend to think (debatable) that our theories have gone beyond the ability of our language to explain them - the only language left is maths.  The reason this is a problem is that our language very closely fits with those notions and concepts that we have the ability to properly understand and internally recognize.  Modern physics is so removed from the semi-intelligent ape that we are forced to rely on mechanistic crutches (overly formal maths, computerised number crunching, proof by exhaustion...) and that insight is limited to those rare and charmed individuals who are both conversant with the mechanisms through very long hours of study, and are imaginative enough to comprehend the theory in a human way.  I am also not sure it is "shake-up-able"
 

Offline Soul Surfer

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 3345
  • keep banging the rocks together
    • View Profile
    • ian kimber's web workspace
I agree and I am reasonably well up in the maths of quantum field theory and string theory but by no means an expert. 

Consider the de Broglie hydrogen atom description.( I have looked for a good reliable reference here but not been able to find one)  I doubt that this route to quantum mechanics is taught now.   This is a semi classical description of how a quantum process works i.e. as a resonant cavity oscillation of the electron matter waves that increases the Q (to borrow a term from electronics) and either slows down a radiative decay process or even stabilises it completely.  Ok the model is far from perfect and quantum electrodynamics describes it just about as perfectly as any theory could.

What I feel is that current high energy physics lacks any true physical insight and without this the, mathematics tends to run away with itself.  I am not in any way denying the models or theories but searching for routes that could lead to an improved physical understanding of what is going on and open up new thinking.

I am well aware of this problem with the mathematical approach and and innovation.  I have had many brushes with mathematicians in the past in the design of advanced electronics systems.  I have also won most of them where the mathematicians are saying that what I want to do is impossible but the physics proves that it is possible by revealing the limitations in their mathematical model.  All models have their limitations and the true approach to wisdom is to understand properly the limits of the model that you are using whether it is mathematical or physical.

 

The Naked Scientists Forum


 

SMF 2.0.10 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines
SMFAds for Free Forums