- Creating a unified theory of nature is the highest goal of modern physics, and few have contributed as much to achieving it as Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin.
- In the 1960s Weinberg helped to develop two pillars of the Standard Model: the unification of electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force, and the theory of the strong nuclear force.
- Since then, he has contributed to efforts to complete the unification, such as string theory, by including the only force of nature that the Standard Model does not cover: gravity.
- Weinberg has also applied particle physics to cosmology. His model explaining dark energy in terms of parallel universes is the most widely cited argument in favor of a multiverse.
Steven Weinberg came up with a good idea one day while driving his red Camaro. The paper he wrote, “A Model of Leptons,” was just two and a half pages long—including references and acknowledgments. When it came out in 1967, it was largely ignored. But it became one of the most quoted physics papers ever and helped to earn Weinberg the 1979 Nobel Prize, shared with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow.
In those two and a half pages, Weinberg showed that two of the four forces of nature, electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force, which outwardly seem completely different, could be different aspects of a single unified set of “electroweak” forces. This theory predicted the existence of a new neutral particle among those that carry out the action of the weak force, known as the weak bosons. And he showed how the innate symmetry of the electroweak forces becomes hidden or, as physicists say, “spontaneously broken,” so that we perceive electromagnetism and the weak force as dissimilar. This symmetry-breaking process endows particles such as quarks with mass.
This article was originally published with the title Dr. Unification.