Particles come to life
Oct 24, 2005
What does a quark, a photon or a gluon look like? No one knows for sure but Jan-Henrik Andersen, an artist at the University of Michigan in the US, has created a series of visual images of elementary particles based on conversation with physicists at Michigan. The work was exhibited at Fermilab in the US during the summer and is highlighted in the latest issue of Symmetry magazine.
To produce the images Andersen worked with David Gerdes, an experimentalist, Gordon Kane, a theorist, and Sherri Smith, dean of the School of Art and Design at Michigan. The goal of the project was to represent particles in a physically accurate way while being visually appealing and technically feasible.
"Our role was to teach Jan-Henrik enough particle physics to be able to understand the families of elementary particles, their attributes, similarities and differences," says Gerdes. "He brought his artist’s perception to the project and was able to capture these properties through a set of visual schemes."
"The particles had to have the same basic form," Andersen told PhysicsWeb, "yet reflect differences in mass, parity and so on. There also had to be logical coherence between the particles, as is found in the Standard Model, but the scheme also had to be open to ideas beyond the Standard Model such as supersymmetry and string theory."
Andersen manipulated the equation for the Lamé curve -- (x/a)m + (y/b)m = 1, where a and b are the length of the major and minor axes and m is a rational number (figure 1) -- to produce images of both the quarks and leptons that make up all the matter in the Standard Model, and the bosons that carry the fundamental forces. Properties like spin, mass, charge and colour were also included.
The first generation of quarks, the up and down quarks, are represented by a single curve in space, while images of the heavier, second and third generations are produced by adding these basic shapes together (figure 2). Andersen maintains the conventions of quantum chromodynamics and shows the quarks in three colours: quarks are red, green and blue. Anti-quarks are coloured cyan, magenta and yellow, while electrons and neutrinos are colourless. He also produced images of particles that have not yet been detected, such as the Graviton, the Higgs boson and supersymmetric particles, and interpreted real data from the CDF experiment at Fermilab to produce an image called Top Quark Event (figure 3).
"Our goal from the beginning has been to do more than just create attractive pieces of art," says Gerdes. "We hope to have developed a pictorial representation of elementary particles that is clear and accurate enough to be understood by lay people and could become a widespread way of imagining the subatomic world, much like the picture of a nucleus surrounded by some elliptical electron orbits is the iconic symbol for an atom."