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Loopy Particle Math

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Loopy Particle Math

Scientists are creating mathematical tools to identify novel particles and phenomena at the world’s largest particle accelerator

Scientific American,

5 min read
3 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Mental gymnastics will open the road beyond particle physics’ Standard Model.

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Innovative
  • Scientific


In particle physics, it can be all too easy to focus on the hardware. With ever bigger and more expensive accelerators and colliders, the headlines are grabbed by machines and engineers. The fantastic power of the mind is sometimes devalued by charismatic individuals’ brilliance. However, frequently the mental gymnastics needed to calculate even seemingly simple assertions is not appreciated. Matthew Von Hippel’s enthusiastic peek into the work of mathematicians and physicists known as “amplitudeologists” is a refreshing celebration of the miracle of thought and reasoning.


The mathematical calculations necessary to continue research in particle physics are daunting.

In particle physics, when two particles collide, their interaction and the outcome of that interaction are represented by a Feynman diagram, named after the noted physicist Richard Feynman. To find the probability of an individual interaction, however, all possible interactions must be calculated. The more complex the diagram, the more “loops” it contains, the more complicated the calculation.

While there is an infinity of possible diagrams, the probabilities of more complex diagrams are lower. It is therefore feasible to reduce this number...

About the Author

Matthew von Hippel is a postdoctoral scholar at the Niels Bohr International Academy in Copenhagen. He has been working on amplitudes since he stumbled into his adviser’s office in graduate school, looking for a summer project. He has also been doing science outreach since he got into a discussion with Ars Technica’s science editor about the definition of “theory.”

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