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Brief undergraduate-level introduction to symmetry principles and conservation laws

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Laws in

Atomic and Subatomic Physics Part I

832

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Symmetry Principles and Conservation Laws in

Atomic and Subatomic Physics 1

P C Deshmukh and J Libby

Keywords

Symmetry, conservation laws,

Noethers theorem.

The whole theoretical framework of physics rests

only on a few but profound principles. Wigner

enlightened us by elucidating that \It is now nat-

ural for us to try to derive the laws of nature

and to test their validity by means of the laws of

invariance, rather than to derive the laws of in-

variance from what we believe to be the laws of

nature." Issues pertaining to symmetry, invari-

ance principles and fundamental laws challenge

the most gifted minds today. These topics re-

quire a deep and extensive understanding of both

`quantum mechanics' and the `theory of relativ-

ity'. We attempt in this pedagogical article to

present a heuristic understanding of these fas-

cinating relationships based only on rather ele-

mentary considerations in classical and quantum

mechanics. An introduction to some fundamen-

tal considerations regarding continuous symme-

tries, dynamical symmetries (Part 1), and dis-

crete symmetries (Part 2) (parity, charge conju-

gation and time-reversal), and their applications

in atomic, nuclear and particle physics, will be

presented.

1. Introduction

The principal inquiry in classical mechanics is to seek

a relationship between position, velocity, and accelera-

tion. This relationship is rigorously expressed in what

we call the `equation of motion'. The equation of mo-

tion is not self-evident, but rests on some fundamental

principle that must be discovered. A prerequisite for

this discovery is the principle of inertia, discovered by

(left) P C Deshmukh is a

Professor of Physics at IIT

Madras. He leads

an active research group in

the field of atomic and

molecular physics and

is involved in extensive

worldwide research

collaborations in both

theoretical and experimen-

tal investigations in this

field. He enjoys

teaching both undergradu-

ate and advanced graduate

level courses.

(right) Jim Libby is an

Associate Professor in the

Department of Physics at

IIT, Madras. He is an

experimental particle

physicist specialising in CP

violating phenomena.

833

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

1

This article is partly based on

the talk given by PCD at the

Karnataka Science and Tech-

nology Academys special lec-

tures at the Bangalore Univer-

sity on 23rd March, 2009.

Galileo, contrary to common experience, that the veloc-

ity of an object is self-sustaining and remains invariant

in the absence of its interaction with an external agency.

This principle identies an inertial frame of reference

in which physical laws apply. This great discovery by

Galileo was soon incorporated in Newton's scheme as

the First law of mechanics, the law of inertia. New-

ton recognised, following his invention of calculus, that

it is the change in velocity that seeks a cause. New-

ton's calculus expressed the rate of change of velocity

as acceleration which is interpreted as the `eect' of the

physical interaction that generated it. Newton's second

law expresses this `cause-eect' relationship as a linear

response of the system to the physical interaction it ex-

perienced:

!

F = m

!

a . The mass m of the object is the

constant of proportionality between the eect (

!

a ) and

the cause (

!

F ).

In the following section we will begin by considering how

Newton's third law introduces a simple illustration of

the relation between a symmetry and a conservation law.

In the remainder of the article we will explore similar re-

lationships that impact much of the frontiers of physics,

which are being investigated today; these studies use

powerful theoretical frameworks and sophisticated tech-

nology.

2. Translational Invariance and Conservation of

Momentum

We consider a closed system of N point particles in ho-

mogeneous isotropic space. The force on the kth particle

is the sum of forces on it due to all the other particles

!

F

k

=

N

X

j=1

j6=k

!

f

kj

: (1)

We now consider `virtual' translational displacement of

the entire N-particle system in the homogeneous space.

Newtons third law

introduces a

simpleillustration

of the relation

between a

symmetry and a

conservationlaw.

834

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

In such a process, the internal forces can do no work,

since the process amounts to merely displacing the en-

tire system to an adjacent region, displaced from the

original by an amount

!

s. As this displacement is being

considered in a homogeneous medium, it is referred to as

being `virtual' as no work is done by the internal forces.

This phenomenon is then expressed by the relation

N

X

k=1

!

F

k

!

s =

N

X

k=1

d

!

P

k

dt

!

s = 0 ; (2)

where

!

P

k

is the momentum of the kth particle. In ex-

pressing this quantitative result, we have made use of

Newton's rst two laws (the rst law implicitly and the

second law explicitly) and also the notion of transla-

tional invariance in homogeneous space. Now, for an ar-

bitrary displacement

!

s, this relationship requires that

N

X

k=1

d

!

P

k

dt

= 0 : (3)

If we write this result for a two-body closed system, we

discover Newton's third law, that action and reaction

are equal and opposite:

d

!

P

1

dt

=

d

!

P

2

dt

: (4)

In other words, we discover that conservation of linear

momentum is governed by the symmetry principle of

translational invariance in homogeneous space. Like-

wise, one can see that the conservation of angular mo-

mentum emerges from rotational displacements in isotro-

pic space.

It is interesting to observe that Newton actually in-

vented calculus to explain departure from equilibrium of

an object which manifests as its acceleration, and pro-

posed a linear relationship between the physical inter-

action (force) which he interpreted as the `cause' of the

Conservation of linear

momentum is

governed by the

symmetry principle of

translational

invariancein

homogeneous space.

Likewise, one can see

that the conservation

of angular momentum

emerges from

rotational

displacements in

isotropic space.

835

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

It is interesting that

laws of classical

mechanics can be

built alternatively

on the basis of an

integral principle,

namely the

principleof

variation,

acceleration. Newton's second law contains the heart

of this stimulus{response relation, expressed as a dier-

ential equation. It is interesting that laws of classical

mechanics can be built alternatively on the basis of an

`integral principle', namely the `principle of variation',

discussed in the next section.

3. Principle of Variation

The connection between symmetry and conservation laws

becomes even more transparent in the alternative for-

malism of classical mechanics, namely the Lagrangian/

Hamiltonian formulation. It is instructive to rst see

that this alternative formalism is based not on the linear

response relationship embodied in the Newtonian prin-

ciple of causality, but in a completely dierent approach,

namely the `principle of variation'.

Newtonian mechanics oers an accurate description of

classical motion by accounting for the same by the `cause

and eect' relationship. An alternative and equivalent

description makes it redundant to invoke such a causal

description. This alternative description dispenses the

Newtonian notion of the 'cause-eect' relationship, and

instead of it invokes a variational principle, namely, that

the `action integral' is an extremum. Those who are used

to thinking in terms of the Newtonian formulation alone

would nd it strange that one gets equivalent description

of classical mechanics without invoking the notion of

force at all!

Let us rst state the principle of extremum action. We

begin on common ground with the Newtonian formula-

tion, namely that the position q and velocity

:

q specify

the mechanical state of a system. A well-dened func-

tion of q and

:

q would also then specify the mechanical

state of the system. What is known as the Lagrangian of

a systemL(q;

:

q) is just that; it is named after its origina-

tor Lagrange (1736{1813). Furthermore, in a homoge-

836

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Simply stated, the

principle of least

action is that the

mechanical

state of a system

evolves along a

world-line such that

the action,

S =

t2 Z

t1

L(q;

:

q; t)dt ;

is an extremum.

neous isotropic system, L(q;

:

q) can depend only quadrat-

ically on the velocity, so that it could be independent of

its direction. The simplest form the Lagrangian would

then have is L(q;

:

q) = f

1

(q) + f

2

(

:

q

2

), wherein the func-

tions f

1

and f

2

must be suitably chosen. It turns out

that the choice f

1

(q) = V (q), i.e., the negative of the

particle's potential energy, and f

2

(

:

q

2

) = (m=2)

:

q

2

, i.e.,

the kinetic energy T of the particle, renders this new for-

malism completely equivalent to Newtonian mechanics.

This relationship oers us with a simple interpretation

of the Lagrangian as L(q;

:

q) = T V .

Simply stated, the principle of least action is that the

mechanical state of a system evolves along a world-line

2

such that the `action',

S =

t2

Z

t

1

L(q;

:

q; t)dt ; (5)

is an extremum. This principle was formulated by Hamil-

ton (1805{1865). It has an interesting development be-

ginning with Fermat's principle about how light travels

between two points, and subsequent contributions by

Maupertius (1698{1759), Euler (1707{1783), and La-

grange himself. The principle that `action' is an ex-

tremum is equivalent to stating that the mechanical sys-

tem evolves over the period t

1

to t

2

along a world-line

traced by the points (q;

:

q) such that if the `action in-

tegral' S is evaluated along any other alternative path

displaced innitesimally from the one it actually evolves

over, (q + q;

:

q +

:

q), then:

S =

t

2

Z

t1

L(q + q;

:

q +

:

q; t)dt

t

2

Z

t1

L(q;

:

q; t)dt = 0: (6)

The above equation is a mathematical expression of the

statement of the `principle of extremum action'. The

necessary and sucient condition that this principle

2

A world-line is a trajectory in

the phase space, or the math-

ematical space, along which the

mechanical state of a system

evolves over a period of time.

837

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

must hold good provides us the well-known Lagrange's

equation of motion:

@L

@q

d

dt

@L

@

:

q

= 0: (7)

The quantity (@L)=(@

:

q) in the above equation is known

as the generalised momentum (written as p) conjugate to

the generalised coordinate q. The power of Lagrangian

mechanics comes from the fact that there are very many

pairs of variables (q; p) which can be considered conju-

gate to each other in the Lagrangian sense { q and p need

not have the physical dimensions of [L] and [MLT

1

] re-

spectively. The dimension of the product of q and p,

however, must always be ML

2

T

1

, that of the angular

momentum. From Lagrange's equation, it follows im-

mediately that if the Lagrangian is independent of q,

(i.e., if (@L)=(@q) = 0) then the generalized momentum

p = (@L)=(@

:

q) conjugate to this coordinate is constant.

The independence of the Lagrangian with respect to q is

an expression of `symmetry', since the Lagrangian would

then be the same no matter what the value of q is. This

results in a conservation principle since the generalised

momentum conjugate to this q becomes independent of

time, remains constant. One may pair (time, energy)

as (q; p), and see from this that (@L=(@t) = 0 would

result in energy being constant. This result immedi-

ately follows from the following expression for the time-

derivative of the Lagrangian:

0 =

dL

dt

=

@L

@q

:

q +

@L

@

:

q

::

q +

@L

@t

=

d

dt

@L

@

:

q

:

q +

@L

@

:

q

::

q +

@L

@t

; (8)

where Lagrange's equation is used to re-express the rst

term.

It thus follows that:

d

dt

@L

@

:

q

:

q L =

@L

@t

: (9)

The independence of

the Lagrangian with

respect to q is an

expression of

symmetry, since the

Lagrangian would

then be the same no

matter what the value

of q is. This results

in a conservation

principle since the

generalised

momentum

conjugate to this q

becomes

independent of time,

remains constant.

838

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

If a system has a

continuous

symmetryproperty,

then there are

corresponding

quantities whose

values are

conserved in time.

Conservationof

energy follows

fromthe symmetry

principle that the

Lagrangian is

invariant with

respect to time.

From the above, it immediately follows that when the

Lagrangian depends on time only implicitly through its

dependence on q and

:

q, then:

d

dt

@L

@

:

q

:

q L = 0 ; (10)

which implies

h

@L

@

:

q

:

q L

i

is a conserved quantity. This

quantity is called the Hamiltonian, or Hamilton's prin-

cipal function, of the system, which for a conservative

system is essentially the same as the total energy of the

system. This can be seen easily by identifying the gen-

eralized momentum and substituting T V for the La-

grangian. We thus see that conservation of energy fol-

lows from the symmetry principle that the Lagrangian

is invariant with respect to time.

These results illustrate an extremely powerful theorem

in physics, known as the Noether's theorem, which can

be stated informally as:

If a system has a continuous symmetry property, then

there are corresponding quantities whose values are con-

served in time [1].

This theorem is named after Noether (1882{1935), of

whom Einstein said:

In the judgement of the most competent living math-

ematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most signicant

creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the

higher education of women began [2].

4. Symmetry Principles and Physical Laws

We have now seen that both the equation of motion

and the conservation principles result from the single

principle of least action. Moreover, the same principle

provides for the connection between symmetry and con-

servation laws, exalted by Noether to one of the most

profound principles in contemporary physics. We now

839

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Refer to Resonance issues on:

Einstein, Vol.5, March and April

2000.

Noether, Vol.3,September 1998.

Wigner, Vol.14, October 2009.

Figure 1. Masters of sym-

metry.

ask if the conservation principles are consequences of the

laws of Nature, or, rather the laws of Nature are conse-

quences of the symmetry principles that govern them?

Until Einstein's special theory of relativity, it was be-

lieved that conservation principles are the result of the

laws of Nature. Since Einstein's work, however, physi-

cists began to analyze the conservation principles as

consequences of certain underlying symmetry consid-

erations from which they could be deduced, enabling

the laws of Nature to be revealed from this analysis.

Wigner's profound impact on physics is that his expla-

nations of symmetry considerations using `group theory'

resulted in a change in the very perception of just what

is most fundamental, and physicists began to regard

`symmetry' as the most fundamental entity whose form

would govern the physical laws. Wigner was awarded

the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics for these insights [3].

The conservation of linear and angular momentum we

illustrated above are consequences of invariance under

continuous displacements and rotations respectively in

homogenous and isotropic space. Likewise, the conser-

vation of energy is a consequence of invariance under

continuous temporal displacement.

A detailed exposition of the governing symmetry prin-

ciples requires group theoretical methods, and is clearly

beyond the scope of this article, but we continue to dwell

on some other kinds of symmetries now and examine

their connections with conservation principles.

5. Dynamical Symmetry: Laplace{Runge{Lenz

Vector

It is well known that in the classical two-body Kepler

problem (gravitational Sun{Earth system, or the Coulom-

bic proton{electron planetary model of the old-quantum-

theory of the hydrogen atom), both energy and angular

momentum are conserved. We have already discussed

840

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

the associated symmetries. What is interesting is that

the elliptic orbit of the Kepler system for bound states

is xed, i.e., the ellipse does not precess (Figure 2).

Can we then nd a symmetry that would explain the

constancy of the orbit? It turns out that the orbit itself

remains xed if and only if the potential in which motion

occurs is strictly of the form 1=r and the associated

force is of the form 1=r

2

. This is true for both the

gravitational and the Coulomb potential, and hence the

Kepler elliptic orbits remain xed. This is rigorously

expressed as the constancy of the Laplace{Runge{Lenz

(LRL) vector. The LRL vector is dened as:

~

A =

~v

~

H

^ e

(11)

and is shown in Figure 3 [4]. In the above equation ~v

is the `specic' linear momentum and

~

H is the `specic'

angular momentum. The term `specic' denotes the fact

that the physical quantities linear momentum and angu-

lar momentum, which are being referred to, are dened

per unit mass. Likewise in the second term of the LRL

vector, is the proportionality in the inverse distance

gravitational potential per unit mass of the planet. It

can be easily veried that the time derivative of the LRL

vector vanishes, and the

~

A is therefore a conserved quan-

tity. Its direction is from the focus of the ellipse to the

perihelion (Figure 3) [4], which has a direction along the

major axis of the ellipse, thus holding the ellipse xed.

Figure 2. If the eclipse were

to precess it would gener-

ate what is calleda rosette

motion since the trajectory

of the planet wouldseemto

goover the petals of a rose,

if seen from a distance.

Figure 3. Schematic dia-

gramshowingtheLaplace

RungeLenz vector,

~

A.

841

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

The constancy of the LRL vector is a conservation prin-

ciple, and since the governing criterion involves dynam-

ics (namely that the force must have a strict inverse

square form), the associated symmetry is called `dynam-

ical symmetry'. Sometimes, it is also called an `acciden-

tal' symmetry. This symmetry breaks down when there

is even a minor departure from the inverse square law

force, as would happen in a many-electron atom, such

as the hydrogen-like sodium atom. The potential expe-

rienced by the `outer-most' electron goes as 1=r only in

the asymptotic (r ! 1) region. Close to the center,

the potential goes rather as Z=r, due to the reduced

screening of the nuclear charge by the orbital electrons,

and thus departs from 1=r. This dierence in the hydro-

gen atom potential and that in the sodium atom is due

to the quantum analogue of the breakdown of the LRL

vector constancy in the sodium atom. Using group the-

oretical methods, Vladmir Fock (1898{1974) explained

the dynamical symmetry of the hydrogen atom [5].

Using the language of group theory, the Fock symmetry

accounts for the (2l + 1)-fold degeneracy of the hydro-

gen atom eigenstates. This degeneracy is lifted for the

hydrogen-like sodium atom due to the breakdown of the

associated symmetry. In atomic physics, this is often

expressed in terms of what is called as `quantum defect'

n;l

which makes the hydrogenic energy eigenvalues de-

pend not merely on the principal quantum number n but

also on the orbital angular momentum quantum num-

ber l. This enables the use of the hydrogenic formula

for energy with n replaced by n

eective

= n

n;l

. The

`quantum-defect theory' has very many applications in

the analysis of the atomic spectrum, including the `au-

toionization resonances' [6,7]. As pointed out above,

the conservation of angular momentum is due to the ro-

tational symmetry, referred to as the symmetry under

the group SO(3). All central elds have this symmetry.

However, the inverse-square-law force (such as gravity or

842

RESONANCE September 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Coulomb) has symmetry under a bigger group, SO(4)

or SO(3; 1), where SO(4) is the rotational group in 4

dimensions, and SO(3; 1) is the Lorentz group. The di-

mensionality of the SO(N) group is N(N1)/2, so the

SO(4) group is 6-dimensional and corresponds to the 6

conserved quantities, namely the 3 components of the

angular momentum vector and the three components

of Pauli{Runge{Lenz vector which is the quantum ana-

logue of the LRL vector [8].

6. Conclusion

The conservation of the generalized momentum which is

conjugate to a cyclic coordinate is a generic expression of

a deeper relationship between symmetry and conserva-

tion laws. In the next part of this article we shall discuss

discrete symmetries, the CPT symmetry and comment

on spontaneous symmetry breaking and the search for

the Higgs boson.

Address for Correspondence

P C Deshmukh and J Libby

Department of Physics

Indian Institute of Technology

Madras

Chennai 600036.

Email: pcd@physics.iitm.ac.in

libby@physics.iitm.ac.in

Suggested Reading

[1] W J Thompson, Angular Momentum, Wiley, p.5, 2004.

[2] From a letter to the New York Times on May 5th, 1935 from Albert

Einstein shortly after Emmy Noethers death.

[3] Details of the 1963 Nobel Prize in physics can be found at http://

nobelprize.org/nobel\_prizes/physics/laureates/1963/index.html

[4] For a detailed discussion of the LaplaceRungeLenz vector see H Gold-

stein, Classic Mechanics, Second Edition, Addison-Wesley, p102ff,

1980.

[5] W Fock, Z. Phys., Vol.98, p.145, 1935.

[6] M J Seaton, Rep. Prog. Phys., Vol.46, p.167, 1983.

[7] S B Whitfield, R Wehlitz, H R Varma, T Banerjee, P C Deshmukh and

S T Manson, J. Phys. B: At. Mol. Opt. Phys., Vol.39, p.L335, 2006.

[8] V Bargmann, Z. Physik Vol.99, pp.576582, 1936.

The conservation

of the generalized

momentumwhich

is conjugate to a

cyclic coordinate is

a generic

expression of a

deeper relationship

betweensymmetry

and conservation

laws.

Symmetry Principles and Conservation

Laws in

Atomic and Subatomic Physics Part II

926

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Symmetry Principles and Conservation Laws in

Atomic and Subatomic Physics 2

P C Deshmukh and J Libby

Keywords

Discrete symmetries, violation

of parity and CP, Higgs mecha-

nism, LHC.

(left) P C Deshmukh is a

Professor of Physics at IIT

Madras. He leads

an active research group in

the field of atomic and

molecular physics and

is involved in extensive

worldwide research

collaborations in both

theoretical and experimen-

tal investigations in this

field. He enjoys

teaching both undergradu-

ate and advanced graduate

level courses.

(right) Jim Libby is an

Associate Professor in the

Department of Physics at

IIT, Madras. He is an

experimental particle

physicist specialising in CP

violating phenomena.

Part 1: Resonance, Vol.15, No.9,

p.832.

This article is the second part of our review of the

important role that symmetry plays in atomic

and subatomic physics. We will concentrate on

the discrete symmetries { parity, charge conjuga-

tion, and time reversal { that have played a sig-

nicant part in the development of the `standard

model' of particle physics during the latter part

of the 20th century. The importance of experi-

mental tests of these symmetries, in both atomic

and particle physics, and their sensitivity to new

phenomena is also discussed. To conclude, we

describe how `symmetry breaking' in the stan-

dard model leads to the generation of mass via

the Higgs mechanism and how the search for

evidence of this symmetry violation is one of

the principal goals of the Large Hadron Collider,

which began operating at CERN, Switzerland in

2009.

1. Discrete Symmetries

Apart from continuous and dynamical symmetries, there

are other kinds of symmetries that are of importance in

physics. In particular, we have three discrete symme-

tries of central importance in what is known as the `stan-

dard model' of particle physics. These discrete symme-

tries are: (i) P (Parity), (ii) C (Charge conjugation, i.e.,

matter/antimatter) and (iii) T (Time-reversal), often

known together as PCT symmetry. In physical reactions

of particle physics, these symmetries lead to conserva-

tion principles operating either separately or in combi-

nation. We shall now discuss these discrete symmetries.

927

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Figure 1. Depending on the

plane of reflection, right

goes to left and top to bot-

tom; the primary feature

discussed in the text is

that parity is an operation

that is essentially different

from reflection.

1.1 Parity

Parity is the symmetry we see between an object and

its mirror image. It is interesting that in a mirror, we

usually see the left go to right, and the right go to left,

but we do not see top go to bottom and the bottom

to the top. This feature typies the dierence between

reection and rotation. If we represent the transforma-

tion of a vector ~r to its image in a mirror placed in the

Cartesian yz-plane, then we can express the transforma-

tion ~r = (x; y; z) to its image ~r

I

= (x

I

; y

I

; z

I

) by a matrix

equation:

~r

I

= <~r : (1)

Now, in the case of reection, the determinant of the

matrix < in the above relation is 1, whereas if one

writes a similar relation for the rotation of the vector

~r to a new orientation ~r

R

, the corresponding matrix of

transformation would have for its determinant the value

+1. The reason left goes to right and right to left, but

not the top to the bottom and bottom to the top, in a

mirror is that we usually tend to imagine the image to

have gone to the opposite side of the mirror through a

rotation about the vertical axis. If we imagine the rota-

tion to be about the horizontal axis, we would certainly

see the top go to the bottom, the bottom to the top,

but not left to right or right to left. Figure 1 illustrates

this. Of course, the fundamental reason is the intrin-

sic dierence between rotation and reection, exhibited

by the dierent signs of the determinants of their ma-

trices. The parity transformation is thus very dierent

The reason left goes

to right and right to

left, but not the top

to the bottom and

bottom to the top, in

a mirror is that we

usually tend to

imagine the image

to have gone to the

opposite side of the

mirror through a

rotation about the

vertical axis.

928

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

The physical

phenomena for which

parity isviolated

result from an

interaction known as

the weak interaction;

its most widely-

known manifestation

is nuclear | decay.

from rotation and one may ask, as Alice would (in Th-

rough the Looking Glass), if the physical laws are the

same in the world of images in a mirror. In other words,

this question amounts to asking, given the fact that

there is a certain degree of invariance when one com-

pares an object with its image in a mirror, whether par-

ity is conserved in nature.

The parity operator is a unitary operator which anti-

commutes with the position operator and also with the

operator for linear momentum, since both position and

momentum are polar vectors. However the parity opera-

tor commutes with the operator for angular momentum

which is a pseudovector.

While most of the everyday physical phenomena could

take place just as well in essentially the same manner

in the image world as in the real world, certain physical

phenomena occur dierently. The physical phenomena

for which parity is violated result from an interaction

known as the weak interaction; its most widely-known

manifestation is nuclear decay. The search for parity

violation in weak interactions was advocated strongly by

Lee and Yang [1], after a careful review of the subject in-

dicated that parity conservation, though often assumed,

had not been veried in weak interactions. Acting on

the proposals of Lee and Yang, Wu and collaborators

clearly observed parity violation in the decay of po-

larised nuclei via asymmetries in the distribution of the

-decay electron with respect to the spin of the nucleus

(Figure 2).

These and subsequent measurements showed that the

weak interaction was maximally parity violation, which

meant that it only couples to left-handed chiral states

of matter and right-handed chiral states of antimatter;

i.e., for a massless fermion this would correspond to the

state where the spin is in the opposite direction to its

momentum.

Theviolation of

parity was

unexpected. It

allowed the first

unambiguous

definitionof left

and right in nature.

929

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Figure 2. Schematic (a) is

of the directionof the | de-

cay electron, characterized

by momentum ,

e

p

with re-

spect to the spin of the

60

Co

nucleus, .

60

Co

J

Schematic

(b) is the same process

transformed by the parity

operation. Unequal prob-

abilities for these two pro-

cesses to occur were ob-

served by Wu and collabo-

rators; this was the first ex-

perimental evidence for

parity violation in nature.

a) b)

Atomic transitions

are normally

governed by the

parity selection

rule, which then

breaks down for

those transitions in

which parity is not

conserved.

Parity violation is observed in nuclear and subatomic in-

teractions, and through the unication of the weak and

electromagnetic interactions, parity is violated in certain

atomic processes as well. Atomic transitions are nor-

mally governed by the parity selection rule, which then

breaks down for those transitions in which parity is not

conserved. The electroweak unication achieved in the

Glashow{Weinberg{Salam model triggered the search in

the 1970s for parity nonconservation (PNC) in atomic

processes [2].

The gauge bosons W

but the Z

0

boson of the standard model is neutral. The

latter can mediate an interaction between atomic elec-

trons and the nucleus. The nuclear weak charge QW

of the standard model plays the same role with regard

to Z

0

that the `usual' electric charge plays with regard

to the Coulomb interaction. PNC eect in atomic ce-

sium yields the value of QW(

133

Cs) 72:90, not far

from the value of QW(

133

Cs) 73:09 obtained from

high-energy experiments extrapolated to atomic scale

[3]. The Z-boson has a very large mass and the weak-

interaction is `contact' type. It includes a parity-even

part and a parity-odd (PNC) part. While the parity-

even part leads to a correction to isotope shift and to

hyperne structure, the PNC part leads to the `pseudo-

scalar' correlations in atomic processes.

930

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

The usual radiative transitions in atomic processes are

governed by parity-conserving selection rules imposed

by the electromagnetic Hamiltonian. However, once the

Hamiltonian is modied to include the electroweak in-

teraction, it does not commute with the parity oper-

ator and provides for non-zero probability for parity-

violating atomic transitions. The two sources of parity

nonconservation (PNC) in atoms are: (1) the electron-

nucleus weak interaction and (2) the interaction (some-

times called as PNC hyperne interaction) of electrons

with the nuclear anapole moment. The anapole moment

was predicted by Vaks and Zeldovich [4] soon after Lee

and Yang's proposal that weak interactions violate par-

ity. The anapole moment is a new electromagnetic mo-

ment that can be possessed by an elementary particle

(as well as composite systems like the nucleon or nu-

cleus) and this would correspond to a PNC coupling to

a virtual photon. The anapole moment can be seen to

result from a careful consideration of the magnetic vec-

tor potential at a eld point after taking into account

the constraints of current conservation and the bound-

edness of the current density.

A signicantly large value of the anapole moment of the

nucleon has been estimated in the case of cesium, aug-

mented by collective nuclear eects. Recently, Dunford

and Holt [5] recommended parity experiments on atomic

hydrogen and deuterium using UV radiation from free

electron laser (FEL) to probe new physics beyond the

standard model. The Dunford{Holt proposal is based

on the consideration that if an isolated hydrogen atom

existed in an excited state that is a mix of states 2s1

2

and

2p1

2

which have opposite parity, then parity would be vi-

olated if the electromagnetic interactions alone were to

exist. These two energy states are very nearly degener-

ate and thus very sensitive to the electroweak interaction

which would mix them. More recently, atomic parity vi-

olation has been observed in the 6s

2 1

S

0

! 5d6s

3

D

1

The anapole moment

is a new

electromagnetic

moment that can be

possessed by an

elementary particle (as

well as composite

systems like the

nucleon or nucleus)

and this would

correspond to a PNC

coupling to a virtual

photon.

Asignificantly large

value of the anapole

moment of the

nucleon has been

estimated in the case

of cesium, augmented

by collectivenuclear

effects.

931

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

408 nm forbidden transition of ytterbium [6]. In this

work, the transition that violates parity was found to

be two orders of magnitude stronger than that found in

atomic cesium. Atomic physics experiments provide a

low-energy test of the standard model and also provide

relatively low-cost tools to explore physics beyond it.

1.2 Charge Conjugation and CP Symmetries

The discrete symmetry of charge conjugation (C) con-

verts all particles into their corresponding antiparticles.

For example, C operation transforms an electron into a

positron. The chirality of the state is preserved under

charge conjugation. For example, a left-handed neutrino

becomes a left-handed antineutrino; the latter does not

interact weakly and shows that C, as well as P, are max-

imally violated in weak interactions. However, the com-

bined operation CP, on a process mediated by the weak

interaction was anticipated to be invariant because, for

example, a left-handed neutrino is transformed into a

right-handed antineutrino. However, violation of CP is

essential to describe the observed state of the universe as

being matter dominated. Only dierences in behaviour

between matter and antimatter, in other words CP vio-

lation, can produce such an asymmetry. The presence of

CP-violation is one of the three conditions for producing

baryons (baryogenesis) in the early universe put forward

by the Soviet physicist and dissident Sakharov (1921{

1989). He had been inspired to propose CP-violation

as an essential ingredient of baryogenesis by the exper-

iments of Cronin, Fitch and collaborators in 1964 that

had clearly shown that CP-violation occurs in the weak

decays of hadrons containing a strange quark [7].

The origin of CP-violation in weak hadronic decays took

some time to describe. It required the bold hypothesis

of Kobayashi and Maskawa in 1973 that there was a

third generation of quarks to complement the already

discovered up (u), down (d), and strange (s) quarks,

Atomic physics

experiments

provide a low-

energy test of the

standard model

and also provide

relatively low-cost

tools to explore

physics beyond it.

Violation of CP is

essential to describe

the observed state of

the universe as being

matter dominated.

932

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

It was Kobayashi

and Maskawas

great insight that a

3 3 matrix

allowed a complex

phase to be

introduced, which

can describe CP-

violation in weak

hadronic decays.

Thisconfirmation

of the three

generation model

to describe CP-

violation led to the

award of the Nobel

Prize for Physics

to Kobayashi and

Maskawa in 2008.

and that time, postulated charm (c) quark. The ad-

dition of a third generation of bottom (b) and top (t)

quarks leads to a 33 matrix being required to describe

the weak couplings between the dierent quarks, which

allow for the change of quark type unlike the strong

or electromagnetic interactions. It was Kobayashi and

Maskawa's great insight that a 3 3 matrix allowed a

complex phase to be introduced, which can describe CP-

violation in weak hadronic decays. The postulated third

generation was not discovered until Lederman and col-

laborators observed evidence of the b quark in 1977.

The CP-violating parameters of Kobayashi and Maskawa

matrix have now been measured accurately principally

in experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Cen-

ter, US, the High Energy Accelerator Research Organ-

isation (KEK), Japan, and the Fermilab National Ac-

celerator Laboratory, US [8]. This conrmation of the

three generation model to describe CP-violation led to

the award of the Nobel Prize for Physics to Kobayashi

and Maskawa in 2008 [9].

Despite the success of this model of CP-violation in the

standard model of particle physics, the rate at which it

is observed in weak hadronic decays is insucient to de-

scribe the large matter-antimatter asymmetry observed

in universe. Therefore, theories that go beyond the

standard model must accommodate new sources of CP-

violation to explain the rate of baryogenesis. This means

that the further study of CP-violation is extremely im-

portant. Therefore, avour experiments are planned at

the Large Hadron Collider (see Section 2) and elsewhere.

CP-violation may also occur in the lepton sector now

that the non-zero mass of the neutrino has been estab-

lished [10]; however, an exposition of this exciting topic

is beyond the scope of this article.

933

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

(a) (b)

Figure 3. Schematic dia-

gram showing the time-re-

versal relation between

photoionization and scat-

tering processes in atomic

physics.

1.3 CPT Symmetry

The `Time Reversal Symmetry' (T) is another discrete

symmetry. This has a characteristically dierent form

in quantum mechanics that has no classical analogue.

The name time-reversal is perhaps inappropriate, be-

cause it would make a layman suspect that it is merely

the inverse of the `time evolution', which is not the

case. In quantum theory, the operator for `time evolu-

tion' is unitary, but that for time-reversal is antiunitary.

The quantum mechanical operator for parity anticom-

mutes with the position and the momentum operator,

but commutes with the operator for angular momen-

tum. On the other hand, the operator for time-reversal,

commutes with the position operator, but anticom-

mutes with both the linear and the angular momentum

operators.

An important consequence of these properties is the

fact that the response of a wavefunction to time-reversal

would include not merely t going to t in the argument

of the wavefunction, but also simultaneous complex con-

jugation of the wavefunction. This property connects

the quantum mechanical solutions of an electron{ion

collision problem with those of electron{atom scattering

through time-reversal symmetry. The physical content

of this connection is depicted in Figure 3 which repre-

sents the fact that in a photoionization experiment it is

the escape channel for the photoelectron which is unique

whereas in an electron{ion scattering experiment it is

the entrance channel of the projectile electron which is

In quantum theory,

the operator for

timeevolution is

unitary, but that for

time-reversal is

antiunitary.

934

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

The Lorentz symmetry

of the standard model

of physics conserves

PCT. Violation of T

symmetry would

require an elementary

particle, atom or

molecule to possess a

permanent electric

dipolemoment

(EDM).

The standard model

of particle physics

predicts that these

dipole moments would

be too small to be

observable. EDM

measurements

therefore provide an

excitingprobe

to explore new

physics beyond the

standard model.

unique. Despite the fact that the ingredients of the

electron{ion collision experiment and that of photoion-

ization are completely dierent, both the processes re-

sult in the same nal state consisting of an electron

and an ion. The initial state, being obviously dier-

ent, implies that the quantum mechanical solutions of

electron{ion scattering and photoionization are related

to each other via the time-reversal symmetry [11]. The

boundary condition for electron{ion collision and for

atomic photoionization are therefore appropriately re-

ferred to as `outgoing wave boundary condition' and `in-

going wave boundary condition'. The employment of the

solutions corresponding to the ingoing wave boundary

conditions in atomic photoionization gives appropriate

expressions for not just the photoionization transition

intensities, but also for the angular distribution and the

spin polarization parameters of the photoelectrons.

The Lorentz symmetry of the standard model of physics

conserves PCT. The discovery of CP violation in the de-

cay of K mesons [7] therefore made it pertinent to look

for the violation of the time-reversal symmetry. Viola-

tion of T symmetry would require an elementary par-

ticle, atom or molecule to possess a permanent electric

dipole moment (EDM), since the only direction with

which an electric dipole moment

~

d =j d j ^ e

s

could be

dened will have to be along the unit vector ^ e

s

, the

direction of the particle's spin. Crudely, this can be

schematically shown in Figure 4 which shows an angular

direction to represent a rotation, and a charge distribu-

tion to depict a dipole moment. As t goes to t, the

spin reverses, but not the electric dipole moment.

We thus expect from the above equations that the elec-

tric dipole moment (EDM) of an elementary particle

must be zero, unless both P and T are violated. The

standard model of particle physics predicts that these

dipole moments would be too small to be observable.

EDM measurements therefore provide an exciting probe

935

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Figure 4. Schematic dia-

gramexplaining that the di-

pole moment of an elemen-

tary particle must be zero

unless T symmetry is bro-

ken. The existence of an

EDM also requires that P

symmetry is violated.

a) b)

to explore new physics beyond the standard model. High-

precision measurements in agreement with predictions of

a robust theoretical formulation would therefore provide

a valuable test of the standard model, since limits on

EDMs would put conditions on supersymmetric gauge

theories [12,13].

2. Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking and the

Search for the Higgs Boson

Here we will discuss how symmetry plays an important

part in attempts to address another outstanding issue

in the standard model of particle physics: How does

an elementary particle, such as an electron, attain its

mass? The standard model answers this question by

assuming that there exists a scalar (spin-less) particle

that was predicted in 1964 by Higgs, which is believed

to impart a mass to other particles that interact with it.

The particle predicted by Higgs is called a Higgs boson,

so named after Higgs and Bose (1894{1974).

The standard model of particle physics is a relativistic

quantum eld theory, which can be expressed in terms

of a Lagrangian. The Lagrangian that describes the in-

teractions of a scalar eld is:

L =

1

2

(@

)

2

1

2

1

4

4

; (2)

936

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Figure 5. Potential V for a

one-dimensional scalar

field | for two cases

2

> 0 ,

2

< 0, as definedinthe text.

where @

mass and is the strength of the coupling of to it-

self. The rst term on the right-hand side is considered

the kinetic energy whereas the other two terms are the

potential.

Figure 5 shows the potential as a function of the scalar

eld for two cases:

2

> 0 and

2

< 0. For the case

of an imaginary mass (

2

< 0) there are two minima at

min

= =

r

: (3)

In considering weak interactions we are interested in

small perturbations about the minimum energy so we

expand the eld about one of the minima, or

= + (x) ; (4)

where (x) is the variable value of the eld above the

constant uniform value of . Substituting this expres-

sion for into (2) one gets:

L =

1

2

(@

)

2

3

+

1

4

+ constant ;

(5)

where the constant term depends on

2

and

4

and the

third term (in parenthesis) on the right-hand side de-

scribes self interactions. The second term corresponds

to a mass term with real mass

m =

p

2

2

=

p

2

2

: (6)

The breaking of

symmetryprovides

a hypothesis for

the generation of

all particle masses

the Higgs

mechanism.

937

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

The perturbative expansion about one of the two min-

ima has led to a real mass appearing. Since the expan-

sion is made about one or other of the minima, chosen

at random, the symmetry of Figure 5 is broken. This is

the process of spontaneous symmetry breaking.

Nambu and Jona-Lasinio rst applied spontaneous sym-

metry breaking as mechanismof mass generation in 1961.

In recognition of this work Nambu was awarded a share

of the 2008 Nobel Prize [9]. There are many examples

of spontaneous symmetry breaking in other areas of

physics. For example a bar magnet heated above the

Curie temperature has its elementary magnetic domains

orientated randomly, leading to zero net eld. The La-

grangian describing the eld of the magnet would be

invariant under rotations. However, on cooling, the do-

mains set in a particular direction, causing an over-

all eld and breaking the rotational symmetry. There

are further examples of spontaneous symmetry breaking

in the description of superconductivity; these inspired

Nambu and Jona-Lasinio's work in particle physics.

The introduction of such a scalar eld interaction and

a spontaneous symmetry breaking within the standard

model allows the weak force carrying bosons, W

and

Z

0

, to obtain mass as well as all quarks and leptons. In

addition, this leads to the physical Higgs boson. The

Higgs boson is the only part of the standard model of

particle physics that has not been experimentally veri-

ed. However, the precise measurements of the prop-

erties of the Z

0

and the W

by experiments at the

Large Electron Positron (LEP) collider, which operated

at the European Centre for High Energy Particle Physics

(CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, and of the W

and the

heaviest quark (the top) at Fermilab, have led to an up-

per limit on the mass of the Higgs boson of 157 GeV=c

2

with a 95% condence level. In addition, unsuccessful

searches for the production of a standard model Higgs

boson at LEP placed a lower limit on the mass of the

Nambu and Jona-

Lasinio first applied

spontaneous

symmetry breaking

as mechanism of

mass generation in

1961. In recognition

of this work Nambu

was awarded a share

of the 2008 Nobel

Prize.

The Higgs boson is

the only part of the

standard model of

particle physics that

has not been

experimentally

verified.

938

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Figure 6. Computer-gener-

ated image shows the loca-

tion of the 27-km LHC tun-

nel (in blue) on the Swiss

France border. The four

main experiments (ALICE,

ATLAS, CMS, andLHCb) are

located in underground

caverns connected to the

surface by 50 m to 150 m

pits. Part of the pre-accel-

eration chain is shown in

grey.

Higgs boson of 114 GeV=c

2

with a 95% condence level.

The search for the Higgs boson is one of the principal

goals of the largest and the biggest experiment done

in the world at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), a 27

km-long particle accelerator built at CERN near Geneva

(Figure 6). The LHC stores and collides two beams

of protons which are circulating clockwise and coun-

terclockwise about the accelarator [14]. Superconduct-

ing dipole magnets generate 8.3 Tesla elds to keep the

beams in orbit. The magnets are cooled to 1.9 K, colder

than outer space, to achieve these elds. The centre-

of-mass collision energy is 14 TeV which is eight times

greater than the previous highest energy collider. Such

energies have not been produced since approximately

10

25

s after the big bang.

There are three experiments around the LHC which will

record the particles generated in the proton{proton col-

lisions. Two, ATLAS and CMS, are the largest collider

particle physics experiments ever built with dimensions

of 46 m25 m25 m and 21 m15 m15 m, respec-

tively. ATLAS and CMS will search for collisions that

contain Higgs bosons or other exotic phenomena. The

third experiment for proton{proton collisions is LHCb,

which is dedicated to studying beauty quarks that ex-

hibit CP violation in their decay as discussed in Section

1.2. There is a fourth experiment, ALICE, which will

study the strong interaction via events produced when

the LHC collides gold nuclei together.

The centre-of-mass

collision energy is

14~TeV which is eight

times greater than the

previous highest

energy collider. Such

energies have not

been produced since

approximately 10

25

s

after the big bang.

939

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Beams of protons were successfully circulated in both

directions about the LHC in September 2008. Unfor-

tunately shortly afterward a fault in one of the 1232

superconducting dipole magnets led to signicant dam-

age in one part of the accelerator. Repairs and imple-

mentation of additional safeguards has taken just over a

year, leading to colliding beams restarting successfully

in December 2009. In March 2010 a new world record

collision energy of 7 TeV was achieved. The LHC will

run at this energy until late 2011, before upgrades to

the accelerator will allow collisions at 14 TeV.

3. Conclusions

This article (Parts 1 and 2) presents a pedagogical sum-

mary of the importance of symmetry principles in de-

scribing many aspects of physical theories, in particular

those related to atomic, particle and nuclear physics.

The continuous symmetries in classical mechanics that

lead to conservation of momentum, angular momentum

and other quantities such as the Laplace{Runge{Lenz

vector, were the starting point. Then discrete symme-

tries P, C and T were discussed, along with how their vi-

olation is embedded within the standard model of parti-

cle physics. The particular importance of the combined

operation of C and P was emphasised as it maps matter

into antimatter. P and T violating phenomena in atomic

physics were discussed as the study of these are at the

heart of some of the most exciting current atomic physics

research. Finally, spontaneous symmetry breaking and

the search for this phenomenon in particle physics at

the Large Hadron Collider was discussed. We hope the

reader is left with a sense of the importance of symmetry

and the many areas in which it is signicant.

Suggested Reading

[1] Details of Lee and Yangs 1957 Nobel Prize can be found at

http:nobelprize.org/nobel\_prizes/physics/laureates/1957/index.html

Within the next five

years the LHC will

either confirm the

Higgs mechanism or

shed light on an

alternative model of

mass generation.

940

RESONANCE October 2010

GENERAL ARTICLE

Address for Correspondence

P C Deshmukh and J Libby

Department of Physics

Indian Institute of Technology

Madras

Chennai 600036.

Email: pcd@physics.iitm.ac.in

libby@physics.iitm.ac.in

[2] D Budker, D F Kimball and D P DeMille, Atomic Physics: An explora-

tion through problems and solutions, Oxford Press, 2004.

[3] I B Khriplovich, Physica Scripta, Vol.T112, p.52, 2004.

[4] Ya B Zeldovich, Sov. Phys. JETP, Vol.6, p.1184, 1958.

[5] RWDunfordand RJ Holt, J.Phys.G: Nucl.Part.Phys., Vol.34, pp.2099

2118, 2007.

[6] K Tsigutkin, DDounas-Frazer, AFamily, J EStalnaker, VVYashchuk

and D Budker, Observation of a Large Atomic Parity Violation Effect

in Ytterbium, http://arxiv.org/abs/0906.3039v3 2009.

[7] Details of Cronin and Fitchs 1980 Nobel Prize can be found at

http:/ / nobel pri ze. org/ nobel \ _pri zes/ physi cs/ l aureates/ 1980/

index.html.

[8] For a popular review of experimental results related to the CKM

matrix see T Gershon, A Triangle that Matters, Physics World, April

2007.

[9] Details of the 2008 Nobel Prize in physics can be found at

http://nobelprize.org/nobel\_prizes/physics/laureates/2008/index.html

[10] For a popular review of neutrino oscillations and evidence for their

mass see D Wark, Neutrinos: ghosts of matter, Physics World, June

2005.

[11] U Fano and A R P Rau, Atomic collision and spectra, Academic Press,

INC, 1986.

[12] R Hasty et al, Science, Vol.290, p.15, 2000.

[13] J J Hudson, B E Sauer, M R Tarbutt and E A Hinds, Measurement of

the electron electric dipole moment using YbF molecules, 2002.

http://arxiv.org/abs/hepex/0202014v2.

[14] More details and the latest news about the LHC can be found at

http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/LHC/LHC-en.html .

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