Phi Beta Kappa Magee Address: "Weak Harbingers of New Physics"

David Latimer, associate professor of physics, will present this talk.

Abstract: "When trying to discover a new law of nature, theoretical physicists often behave in a seemingly unscientific manner — they just (cleverly!) guess. In this talk, I'll discuss two examples of physicists attempts to construct new paradigms in particle physics and cosmology.  

The first example comes from the mid-twentieth century. En route to developing the framework that governs the fundamental building blocks of nature, a crisis arose in the study of certain nuclear decays: the experimental outcomes were completely at odds with theoretical predictions derived from sacred conservation laws. As a resolution, Wolfgang Pauli reluctantly invented a seemingly undetectable particle, which was later termed the neutrino. The new theory successfully explained the data (and more), and neutrinos, along with their weak interactions, became foundational pillars of the Standard Model of particle physics. Decades later (after their near full acceptance by the physics community), neutrinos were definitively detected.

The second example comes from a current anomaly in physics. From a host of astrophysical observations, it seems that of all the known matter in the universe only a mere fraction can be traced to Standard Model particles; the deficit is termed dark matter. This crisis might be resolved through particle physics. In hopes of emulating Pauli’s success, theorists are inventing weakly interacting particle species to account for the missing mass of the universe. I will discuss the theoretical and experimental efforts underway to assess the fruitfulness of this guess. Regardless of whether the dark matter problem has a particle solution, we are on the cusp of another paradigm shift in physics."

The Magee Address was established in honor of John B. Magee, professor of philosophy and religion. Magee was an ordained United Methodist minister and an outstanding professor, author, and mentor who was one of the driving forces in establishing a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Puget Sound in 1986. He was the author of several books including Religion and Modern Man: A Study of the Religious Meaning of Being Human, Reality and Prayer: A Guide to the Meaning and Practice of Prayer and Philosophical Analysis in Education. In addition to naming the Magee address for him, the university also honors his work through the Magee Professorship of Science and Values.

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