Testing Theory by Computing Quark Behavior

By Peterson, Ivars | Science News, May 22, 1993 | Go to article overview

Testing Theory by Computing Quark Behavior


Peterson, Ivars, Science News


It took nearly a year to do the calculations, but when the computer finally disgorged the numbers, physicists had for the first time extracted from theory predictions of the ratios of the masses of eight subatomic particles. These computed, theoretically derived ratios differ from experimentally observed values by less than 6 percent.

The results provide the strongest quantitative evidence yet that quantum chromodynamics (QCD) is correct, says Donald Weingarten of the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Quantum chromodynamics equations describe the characteristics and behavior of quarks and the peculiar force that binds different quarks and antiquarks together to create protons, neutrons, and other subatomic particles known as hadrons.

Weingarten and his co-workers report their findings in the May 10 PHYSICAL REVIEW LETTERS.

The IBM group did their calculation using an experimental supercomputer known as the GF11, designed and built at IBM specifically for this task (SN: 8/10/85, p.88). The computer, which fills a large room, has 566 processors--each a powerful computer in its own right -- that operate together in various combinations. "It's a big, complicated machine," Weingarten says. "It took a while to get it debugged."

Even with a specially designed super-computer on hand, the researchers had to adopt certain approximations to simplify their QCD calculation so that it could be completed within a reasonable time. For example, like most other groups studying QCD, they used a so-called lattice formulation of the theory, in which each point, or node, within the lattice corresponds to a particular set of quark and antiquark positions and a given geometry for the force field acting on the particles. …

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