The Elegance of Physics

Professor Ashvin Vishwanath shows how electrons model supersymmetry

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Many of the great successes of particle physics involve symmetries of nature and the occasional violation of those symmetries. Discoveries such as the Higgs boson are strong vindications of this view of the world and of the Standard Model that describes these particles.

An extension to the Standard Model, called supersymmetry, takes this idea further by incorporating symmetries of space-time, as the name suggests. One side effect of supersymmetry in particle physics is the prediction of a partner to each known particle, which (among other things) could help solve the mystery of dark matter.

Despite intensive searches at the Large Hadron Collider, none of these supersymmetric partners have been detected in nature yet. However, Tarun Grover, D. N. Sheng, and Ashvin Vishwanath proposed in a new paper that an analog of supersymmetry could exist in certain exotic superconducting systems. By manipulating the characteristics of materials called "topological superconductors," researchers should be able to change particle-like excitations into their supersymmetric partners. The similarity in the physical description of these different systems could provide some important insights into the possible nature of supersymmetry and its violation in nature.