Over at Cosmic Variance, JoAnne is soliciting ideas for graphics to explain the Higgs Mechanism and Supersymmetry. If you understand these processes, and have a flair for graphic design, go over there and help her out. She's going to take the best ideas to a workshop on this topic at SLAC, so this might be a path to fame, of a sort...
I'll offer some miscellaneous thoughts about the example graphics she provided, below the fold.
Here are the existing Higgs boson graphics:
(This is a collage of four different graphics from different sources-- JoAnne's post has the original links.)
As stand-alone graphics, the bottom two are terrible. The table is familiar to physicists, but the fuzzy Higgs blob in the background is completely mysterious. And the potential curve on the bootm right is equally opaque. As illustrations to go with an article in Physics Today they might be fine, but for a more general audience, they're crap.
The top two are a good start, though. The one on the left is a little too abstract, and the one on the right is a little too busy, but they both have the advantage of conveying something about how the Higgs mechanism works: particles acquire mass through interactions with the Higgs field, almost as if they were dragging a cloud of other particles along with them. I think a cleaner version of the top right figure could be a really nice way to go.
I'm not sure quite how to do that, but that's why we have people with artistic talent.
Here are the attempted supersymmetry figures:
(Again, it's a collage, and JoAnne has links to the originals, two of which are in foreign languages (one of them in Korean, if I'm remembering my Asian scripts correctly).)
In my opinion, all four of these suck. The hand-holding particle men are silly, the ball-and-stick pattern seems to imply that there's some physical connection between particles and their partners, as if each electron was bound to a "selectron," which isn't right, and even after someone explained the mirror thing in comments, it still doesn't make any sense. The only one that has any redeeming qualities at all is the shadow dancers, and that's still sort of mysterious-- are they supposed to be dancing with each other? If so, why do they not appear to be dancing to the same tune? Are they dancing with invisible partners? If so, that has the same problem as the top left picture-- it suggests a kind of pairing of particles that is unrealistic.
It's really hard to suggest any improvements, though, largely because I don't have any clear idea what the supersymmetric partner particles are for. I mean, I know that the theory says that every particle we see in ordinary matter has a super-symmetric "partner" particle with a painfully dorky name and a different set of properties (the "partners" all have higher mass, and the opposite quantum statistics, so real fermions are partnered with hypothetical bosons, and vice versa), but other than adding mathematical elegance to the theory, I've never heard a clear explanation of what they do. They get invoked as "virtual particles" to explain higher-order corrections to things like gyromagnetic ratios and electric dipole moments, but that's the only concrete physical use I've ever seen for them.
In the absence of some idea of what, if any, role these particles play in determining the properties of existing particles, or explaining observable phenomena, it's really difficult to suggest a way to represent their importance. If they're just an elegant mathematical contrivance, well, I think you're going to have a tough time coming up with a meaningful figure.
The Standard Model arrives massless. The Higgs mechanism plus explicit insertion of fundamental masses sum to a patch vs. the real wrold. What makes you believe there is a Higgs mechanism? The best way to correct epicycles is to use a better model.
Dark matter is curve fitting. Galaxies' mass distributions over time are not Newtonian. This is not a real problem because gravitation is not Newtonian. General relativity denies exchange of spin and orbital angular momenta. Lunar orbital recession is 3.84 Â± 0.07 cm/year. Earth's spin slows as the moon's orbit gets torqued. Einstein-Cartan theory containing an affine connection works to spec.
Affine and teleparallel gravitation demand a chiral pseudscalar vacuum background. Opposite geometric parity mass distributions will violate the Equivalence Principle. That can be tested in 90 days with alpha-quartz in an Eotvos balance to 10^(-13) difference/average or in two days with benzil in paired calorimeters to 3x10^(-18) sensitivity.
If the vacuum is anisiotropic all of physics must be subtlely rewritten at its most fundamental levels. Stop whining about grandiose theory and its grandiose problems. Start with a simple experiment to eliminate the obvious at the founding postulate level - or not, and get rid of the epicycles.
Affine and teleparallel gravitation demand a chiral pseudscalar vacuum background. Opposite geometric parity mass distributions will violate the Equivalence Principle. That can be tested in 90 days with alpha-quartz in an Eotvos balance to 10^(-13) difference/average or in two days with benzil in paired calorimeters to 3x10^(-18) sensitivity. Of course, why didn't we all think of that.
It's a tricky proposition... since I spend half the semester telling my "QM for Poets" class that the whole POINT of QM is that you can't picture fundamental particles as little balls, and then when we talk about the standard model, I wind up showing them lots of diagrams of the various families of bosons and fermions and superparticles as... guess what... LITTLE BALLS!
I think the best approach is to make your diagrams as cartoony as possible so that they all carry the implicit understanding of... this is not a representation, this is just a doodle to help you mentally organize these ideas.
That's my approach, anyway. Obiously it can't be be tested in 90 days with alpha-quartz in an Eotvos balance to 10^(-13) difference/average or in two days with benzil in paired calorimeters to 3x10^(-18) sensitivity.
IIRC one of the original motivations for supersymmetry was solving the hierarchy problem that the difference in mass scales between the Higgs and the plank scale is really huge. If you include supersymmetry you can explain this difference (for a reasonable Higgs mass) without much fine-tuning. The problem with this is that most of the "reasonable" range has now been excluded. Also, this application doesn't seem to help much with illustrating the idea.
The dancing people are dancing to the same tune; far-left and far-right are dancing with each other, for instance - his leg forward and lean forward match her leg back and lean back.
Possibly this is a good analogy for the physics, hamstrung by requiring knowledge of ballroom dancing. (It all comes back to balls.)