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Theoretical Physics - From Outer Space to Plasma
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Theoretical Physics - From Outer Space to Plasma

Author: Oxford University

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Members of the Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics host a morning of Theoretical Physics roughly three times a year on a Saturday morning. The mornings consist of three talks pitched to explain an area of our research to an audience familiar with physics at about the second-year undergraduate level and are open to all Oxford Alumni. Topics include Quantum Mechanics, Black Holes, Dark Matter, Plasma, Particle Accelerators and The Large Hadron Collider.
58 Episodes
To study the Higgs boson at the LHC we also need to understand how highly energetic quarks and gluons interact, among themselves and with the Higgs. These interactions are described by quantum field theory, a beautiful mathematical framework that combines quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of special relativity. In recent years, our understanding of quantum field theory has progressed significantly, allowing us to develop a new generation of accurate theoretical predictions for key LHC reactions. In this talk, I will highlight some of the ideas behind this progress, and illustrate how they are being applied to investigate the Higgs sector at the LHC.
We learn about the Higgs Boson and its interactions at the LHC by examining the debris produced by colliding protons head-on at unprecedented high energies. However, we know from our theory of strong interactions - quantum chromodynamics (QCD) - that protons themselves are highly complex bound states of more fundamental 'quarks', held together by the force carriers of QCD, the 'gluons'. The question is then: how do we go from the collision of these complicated protons to a theoretical prediction that we can use to test the properties of the Higgs boson itself? In this talk, I will discuss what we know about the proton, and how we apply this to LHC collisions and our understanding of the Higgs sector.
Over the past two years, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has started to directly probe a qualitatively new class of interactions, associated with the Higgs boson. These interactions, called Yukawa interactions, are unlike any other interaction that we have probed at the quantum level before. In particular, unlike the electromagnetic, weak and strong forces, they have an interaction strength that does not come in multiples of some underlying unit charge. Yukawa interactions are believed to be of fundamental importance to the world as we know it, hypothesised, for example, to be responsible for the stability of the proton, and so the universe and life as we know it.
The coding theorem from algorithmic information theory (AIT) - which should be much more widely taught in Physics! - suggests that many processes in nature may be highly biased towards simple outputs. Here simple means highly compressible, or more formally, outputs with relatively lower Kolmogorov complexity. I will explore applications to biological evolution, where the coding theorem implies an exponential bias towards outcomes with higher symmetry, and to deep learning neural networks, where the coding theorem predicts an Occam's razor like bias that may explain why these highly overparamterised systems work so well.
Active systems, from cells and bacteria to flocks of birds, harvest chemical energy which they use to move and to control the complex processes needed for life. A goal of biophysicists is to construct new physical theories to understand these living systems, which operate far from equilibrium. Topological defects are key to the behaviour of certain dense active systems and, surprisingly, there is increasing evidence that they may play a role in the biological functioning of bacterial and epithelial cells.
Ian Shipsey delivers the welcome speech for the Saturday Mornings of Theoretical Physics.
Entropy from Entanglement

Entropy from Entanglement


Siddharth Parameswaran, Associate Professor, Physics Department. The usual picture of entropy in statistical mechanics is that it quantifies our degree of ignorance about a system. Recent advances in cooling and trapping atoms allow the preparation of quantum systems with many interacting particles isolated from any external environment. Textbook discussions of entropy — that invoke the presence of a “large” environment that brings the system to thermal equilibrium at a fixed temperature --- cannot apply to such systems. Sid Parameswaran will explain how “entropy” of subsystems of such isolated quantum systems arises from quantum entanglement between different parts of the system, and how their approach to thermal equilibrium is best described as the `scrambling’ of quantum information as it is transferred to non-local degrees of freedom.
Entropy: two short stories

Entropy: two short stories


John Chalker, Head of Theoretical Physics, gives a talk on entropy. Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics give us two alternative ways of thinking about entropy: in terms of heat flow, or in terms of the number of micro-states available to a system. John Chalker will describe a physical setting to illustrate each of these. By applying thermodynamics in a realm far beyond its origins, we can use the notion of an ideal heat engine to find the temperature of a black hole. And by applying combinatorial mathematics to hydrogen bonding, we can find the entropy of ice.
Alexander Schekochihin, Professor of Theoretical Physics, gives a talk on entropy. When dealing with physical systems that contain many degrees of freedom, a researcher's most consequential realisation is of the enormous amount of detailed information about them that she does not have, and has no hope of obtaining. It turns out that this vast ignorance is not a curse but a blessing: by admitting ignorance and constructing a systematic way of making fair predictions about the system that rely only on the information that one has and on nothing else, one can get surprisingly far in describing the natural world. In an approach anticipated by Boltzmann and Gibbs and given mathematical foundation by Shannon, entropy emerges as a mathematical measure of our uncertainty about large systems and, paradoxically, a way to describe their likely behaviour—and even, some argue, the ultimate fate of the Universe. Alex Schekochihin will admit ignorance and attempt to impart some knowledge.
This talk reviews the developments in quantum information processing.
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