Hey, John Ellis, that was my idea…


Some of you might remember my post on the RS1 model where I made a nice graphic featuring Gauguin’s 1897 masterpiece  “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” The work, I thought, best captured our inquisitive nature as scientists. (Also, the lecturer reading my Part III essay is a bit of an artist himself, so I figured the image would be appreciated.)

But now it seems that someone else has picked up on the idea! John Ellis, one of CERN’s best-known theorists, gave a talk at EPS-HEP2007 this past July using that very same painting as a theme for the status of the particle physics community. A proceedings paper (arXiv:0710.5590) was just posted on the arXiv today.

The paper is an excellent light read from someone with a bird’s eye view of the field. One could perhaps even use it as a model for motivating the LHC to non-scientists. I especially like that he mentions the Planck satellite as the “LHC of Cosmology,” probing the `other’ (cosmological) Standard Model. Modern `particle theory’ is intimately linked to early-universe cosmology; major examples being the relic abundance of dark matter and the electroweak phase transition.

In his prologue, Professor Ellis shares that he used to have a copy of Gauguin’s painting on his wall as a graduate student, “just to remind me why he was there.” I’m not that high-brow, and instead have this poster, which I think is ultimately the same thing. 🙂


5 Responses to “Hey, John Ellis, that was my idea…”

  1. 1 Apostolos Mountouris

    Hello flip tomato,

    very nice blog you have here. I am a physics graduate (long time ago 😦 though) and feeling suddenly “homesick” about physics I started searching the web and that’s how I bumped into this site.

    I tried to understand Professor Ellis’ talk but I can’t say I was succesful, at least not the way I wished to be. Anyway, I wanted to ask you some guidance on how one can study (selfstudy) quantum field theory.

    I had a look at a previous post but the books mentioned there are somewhat advanved as far as the calculus they contained. So actually my question is, is there any mathematical reference you suggest for someone wishing to study qft on his own?

    Regards, Apostolos.

  2. Yiasas Apostolos! It’s hard to study mathematics-for-physics without some foresight regarding what’s relevant and what is not. A lot of the mathematics you’ll need can be found in the popular mathematical physics books by Boas, Reif, and Afrken/Weber. In particular, you should be familiar with multivariable calculus and a little bit of complex analysis (enough to know how to do a simple contour integral.)

    Most of the quantum mechanics background necessary can be found in an introductory text, like Griffith’s Introduction to Quantum Mechanics. (You may need to refer occasionally to more advanced books, like the big red one by Shankar.)

    The last ingredient is a familiarity with tensors, which you can pick up by reading the first few chapters of any General Relativity book. You only need special relativity, but you need to learn it using four-vector notation.

    I think the most important thing is not to get bogged down by the `prerequisites.’ If your goal is to learn QFT, then dont spend a year reading a mathematical physics book to get all the background — dive into the QFT as best you can, and then refer to other books as necessary.

    If your goal is to get your feet wet without actually having to do research-level calculations, then I would recommend reading Griffith’s Intro to Quanutm Mechanics, then Griffith’s (the very same) Introduction to Elementary Particle physics, and then Zee’s “Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell.” Alternately, there’s a relatively new book by Oxford press called “Modern Quantum Field Theory” that looks nice.

    Let me know if you want more details,

  3. 3 Apostolos Mountouris

    Hi Flip, thanks for the advice.

    I have the Zee’s book plus Aitchison’s one on gauge theories and the Introduction to Elementary particle physics from Griffith (as far as quantum mechanics and special relativity I still have the books from my Uni, but I ‘ll try to acquire a copy of Griffith’s on QM).

    It’s just it is a long time ago since I did similar calculations and I was frightened at the beginning with the equations stated in these books. So I guessed I needed a reference on the mathematical aspect of qft since my own notes and Uni references are now somewhere on a twilight zone.

    I will follow your advice to dive into qft to grasp the physical meaning first and leave the technical calculations for later on.

    P.S I understand you are coming to Greece at Uni of Ioannina, is that right? How come and you picked Ioannina for research? Just curious. However be aware before you come because there is a struggle with the government about the establishment of private Universities and there is a possibility you may find the Uni closed by the students. Keep an eye on the news.

  4. 4 robert

    The great thing about Art is that one interpretation is as valid as another; there are none of those embarrassing experiments or rules that establish fairly incontrovertibly that only one answer to a calculation is correct. So what is the picture about? The standard view (up the Wikipedia) is that it is to do with the impact of missionary activity on the world view of the polynesians – which I suppose makes sense. My immediate take was that the questions posed were those that occupied the minds of the European soi-dissant intellectual- which Gaugin was before he shot through to get down with all the pretty girls – but were as naught to the Arcadian innocents, who lived and died under the eye of their tiny idol. So how does any of this map onto the quandaries facing the modern hep-th dude, as he waits for the LHC to do its thing? Or does it just look good, which is, after all, what Art is really all about.

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