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Cornell Theorists
To Test Theories of Physics

What Is the Origin of Inertia?

Maxim Perelstein

Maxim Perelstein

The standard model of strong, electromagnetic, and weak interactions is the crowning achievement of twentieth-century physics. The model combines insights from quantum mechanics and relativity theory to provide a theoretical description of physics at the subatomic scale. Over the past three decades, a series of experiments has confirmed the predictions of the theory, often with exquisite precision.

Satisfying as this success is, it by no means represents the end of the quest to understand nature at its most fundamental, microscopic level. Rather, it brings into focus a new set of questions that are not addressed by the standard model. Some of the questions are these: What is the origin of mass, inertia, and matter? How does gravity, the only known force left outside the scope of the standard model, fit in? Why are there so many (16 at the latest count) different kinds of elementary particles in nature? Recent cosmological observations indicate that only about five percent of the energy in the universe is in the form of known particles included in the standard model; of what is the remaining 95 percent made? Members of the LEPP theory group are actively engaged in the search for answers.

The Origin of Mass

For years, physicists speculated that the origin of mass is the so-called Higgs boson, a particle that so far eludes experimental discovery. This nondiscovery motivated some theorists to look for alternative explanations: for example, Cornell’s Csaba Csaki, Physics, and his colleagues have recently suggested that there is no Higgs boson, and the origin of mass is instead related to the existence of a fifth dimension of space curled up to a tiny size. Even if the Higgs exists, it is very likely that the actual mechanism of mass generation is more complicated, involving other new particles and interactions. Theorists have proposed numerous candidate models. In the near future, the experiments at the frontier of next-generation accelerator facilities, the LHC and the ILC, will provide a definitive test of these ideas. Considerations of theoretical consistency guarantee that the new physics involved in the mechanism of mass generation—whatever it is—will be discovered in the new round of experiments. The new experimental data should enable the construction of a definitive theory of the origin of mass, and Cornell theorists look forward to participating in the exciting quest for such a theory.


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