Could the laws of the universe be different?

Hello skeptics and other lurkers,

Today’s post again comes courtesy of a tweeter, who asked a question along the lines of this post’s title. This is a question which I have wanted to deal with for a while now, and I think that tonight is as good a time as ever for me to deal with it.

The laws of nature (as you should all know by now) are the laws which define the four fundamental forces we observe (gravity, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetism) and the mathematical equations which describe these four forces. Most of the plight of modern particle physics is to find out as much as we can about these forces and equations, and see how it works out for the universe now, in the past and in the future, hoping to discover as much about our universe as possible, with the ultimate goal being to finish with one sum which describes all of these forces, the Theory of Everything (TOE). Last night I talked about string theory and the TOE, and this is one of the important parts in answering tonight’s question.

One of the most important ideas in particle physics is that, under extremely high energies, three of the fundamental forces (electromagnetism, strong nuclear, weak nuclear) can be united by one Grand Unified Theory (GUT) which describes all three forces. This theory has survived mathematical attempts at disproof and appears strong mathematically. This Grand Unified Theory is very important to particle physics. The hope is that, under EVEN higher temperatures and energies, this Grand Unified Theory can be combined with gravity to create the Theory of Everything. Gravity has always been a thorn in the side of physicists, and is actually the least understood and proven of all the fundamental forces, despite its obviousness in everyday life.

The hope and expectations are that gravity and the other three forces can be combined under higher temperatures to form one Theory of Everything. If it is true, as predicted by modern physics, then this has surprising implications for the four fundamental forces.

When the universe was born in the big bang, it was in a state of extreme heat, pressure and energy. Then it went under a process called ‘inflation’, where the universe expanded extremely rapidly (faster than the speed of light) and cooled extremely rapidly. There are two factors which are important in answering our question. 1. At the start, the universe was in a state of very high energy and heat, and 2. The universe expanded faster than the speed of light. Now, if there was ever a time in the history of the universe where the four fundamental forces would be combined, it would be right at the start.

Now, one hypothesis of a multiverse is extrapolated from this. If the universe went under rapid expansion while the four fundamental forces were combined, it could be true that, due to different parts of the universe being cut off from each other because of the speed of light, in different places, the universe could have cooled at different rates, meaning that the four fundamental forces could be different in those universes. Due to this hypothesis, it could be true that from one big bang, multiple universes could have been created. The definition of a universe is all of the things which can be observed, and seeing that these places are cut off from each other due to the speed of light, you have your self a multiverse, with different laws of physics.

This idea, like all multiverse hypotheses, has ramifications for the fine-tuning of the universe. It is one which is also hypothesized by accepted physics models, and is one if the easiest to accept, seeing that we know there must be much more out there than the observable universe.

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120 Years of the Electron

Hello there skeptics,

This month, June (its June on Australia already, so I’m celebrating), is marking a very special occasion. It was 120 years ago that Hendrik Lorentz published his paper, which is now known as the birth of the electron. The electron is one of the most pivotal ideas in physics, and is crucial to our understanding of electromagnetism, but it was only an idea for most of the 19th century.

For a long time, electrons were thought about in relation to electricity and magnetism, ad was theorized by quite a lot of physicists, but there was no maths for it, until 1864. It was that year that James Maxwell put forward his theory of electrical and magnetic fields. To some people’s surprise, the equations many physicists learn today as ‘Maxwell’s equations’ are not what Maxwell wrote about in 1864. Maxwell’s equations where messy and complicated. Maxwell did not know that what he was writing could have become the biggest set of equations in physics history, he was only  thinking about making his fundamental equations fit with the phenomena observed. He just put the equations on paper as best as he could. The equations today known as Maxwell’s are only a readers digest of the many symbols, scribbles and sprawls which can be found in his exposition.

It took Lorentz, in 1892, to tidy it all up, purify the jumble of equations and symbols in Maxwell’s work, and make physics poetry for the next century. Lorentz had to sort the signals and beauties of Maxwell’s work from the mess. The signal: four equations which describe how electrical and magnetic fields respond to electric charges, and one equation that specifies that force the fields exert on charge. The noise: Pages upon pages of scrawling, jottings, symbols and messiness left behind by Maxwell.

Now that some (relatively) simple equations where around, physicists started to wonder if these equations could be used to rebuild how we think matter works, starting ground up from the electron, and pave the way for particle physics. Lorentz and others set out to test it, and sure enough, they could use this equation to explain phenomenons of the universe one after the other; conduction of heat, conduction of electricity, reflection of light, refraction of light, and many more electron related things.

In 1897, Joseph Thompson provided experimental proof that electrons really do exist, considered now the birth of the electron, after its conception in 1892.

This work set up the next century of physics and beyond, with a lot of the quantum mechanics, special relativity and general relativity work relying upon these equations. One must not forget the role that Maxwell played, but it was Lorentz who paved the way for particle and astro physics for they next 120 years and beyond. Even today, we still use these equations in our physics, and in almost every physics domain, you trace back its roots to Lorentz and his electron, because electrons rule our world.

Another battery we will never see again?

Buenas noches,

Today’s post will be about an article I first saw at physicsworld.com. It is titled ‘Graphene in new ‘battery’ breakthrough?’, and when I first saw it, i had the normal reaction of “Here we go, another new battery technology which will be hyped up but we will never see on shelves.” but I decided to have a look into it, because sometimes there is some pretty interesting physics at hand. To be honest, there may be something to this, because once you see past the badly worded title, it is not your average battery article.

The difference between this battery and normal battery technology is a few things. It does have what all new battery technologies must have, larger battery lives, but it also has something which could be very useful in almost every situation, it is powered by the ambient heat in its surroundings.

Now, normally, when we hear about the latest battery technology, you can usually list a few good applications for it, but with something like this, the list would be shorter if you listed what it wouldn’t be useful for… like trekking in the tundra or living on Mars.

You may be asking, “How does this new battery work?”, well, I am going to explain it to you now.
It appears to be yet another victory for graphene. We are all familiar with ions, positively charged atoms. Well, when in an aqueous solution, ions move around with a whole heap of speed at room temperature. A lot of  energy can be produced just with the heat around us.

The experiments where conducted by Zihan Xu and his colleagues, and they made this battery by adding gold and silver electrodes to a strip of graphene (a sheet of carbon one atom thick). When putting six of these devices in series in a copper-chloride ion solution, they found that they could produce a voltage of more than 2V, this is plenty enough to power an LED light. It is an interesting concept, and is not yet at the stage of being able to run a car on it, but it is a limitless energy supply and it seems scaleable.

That’s enough of me for today, I leave you with a quote from Edward Teller, “A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no-one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective.” Edward Teller, father of the Hydrogen Bomb and theoretical physicist of some note.