Friday, September 5, 2014

Big blobs

One of the things I have discussed in my blog is how particles arise in quantum theories. Putting it into one (hand-waving) sentence, then particles are just isolated peaks in the quantum fields which fill up the universe. But is this all that there is possible?

The answer is no, and I had to do with the alternatives several times in my own research. But what are these alternatives?

Particles, I said, are isolated peaks. They are, what we call localized - existing at a single place. A single, and very slender, peak on a background of (nearly) nothing else. Of course, there are also bound states, like the hydrogen atom, and other such objects. These are two, or more particles, being close to each other, and which move in the same direction. However, in this case the individual particles are still, more or less, distinct.

Here, I want to introduce another concept. It arises, when one takes many particles, and puts them very close together. Then the peaks start to overlap, until it is impossible to say where one starts, and where another ends. In many cases such a bunch of particles is just unstable, and the particles fly apart pretty quickly. But several theories, most notably the strong interactions, provide another option. When carefully balancing how the particles are together, they form a super-particle, and the whole bunch behaves almost like one big particle. This is different from the bound states, because the particles are no longer individually detectable inside, it is just one big blob. Of course, it is possible to disassemble this blob, and the original particles come out. Hence, such blobs are not called particles, but pseudo-particles. A more fancy name for them is 'topological excitations'. This name has been given to them because of certain properties linked to the mathematical field of 'topology'. One of the particularly important features of these blobs is that they are, without external disturbance, extremely stable. The reason is, pictorially speaking, the way the particles are interwoven makes knots, which do not open.

So aside from the fascinating fact that these things exist, what is their use for physics? They play especially a role in theories where everything interacts strongly with each other, like the strong force. It is hypothesized that in such theories blobs emerge easily, and may even play the most important role. This would mean that effectively not the original particles, but the blobs are the usually encountered objects. And how they interact makes up the phenomena we see in experiments. Single particles are then just some minor disturbance to the game of the big blobs. The blobs become what physicists call the 'effective degrees of freedom', meaning the important players.

Is this true, especially in the strong interactions? It depends. We do not have an equivalent formulation of the theory in terms of blobs instead of particles, so we do not know for sure. We do know that several features, like mass generation, can be very simply explained just by using the blobs. There, it helped us a lot in understanding what is going on. Other features, like the famous confinement, turn out to be a much tougher cookie. We still are not sure, whether it is really possible.

Finally, what are my stakes in the blobs? One of the questions to be posed is, whether the properties of remaining individual particles are determined by the what the blobs do. Is their movement constrained by them? Are their interactions mainly with a blob involved, rather then directly between the particles? I am trying to answer these questions by simulations. Some preliminary findings are already available, but there will be more to come.