December 25, 2007


Is this the fabric of the universe?: Roger Highfield describes a heroic mathematical enterprise that could lay bare the fundamentals of the cosmos (Roger Highfield, 3/19/07, Daily Telegraph)

"The group of symmetries of this strange geometry called E8 is one of the most intriguing structures that Nature has left for the mathematician to play with," commened Prof Marcus du Sautoy of Oxford University, currently in Auckland. "Most of the time mathematical objects fit into nice patterns that we can order and classify. But this one just sits there like a huge Everest."

What makes this group of symmetries so exciting is that Nature also seems to have embedded it at the heart of many bits of physics. One interpretation of why we have such a quirky list of fundamental particles is because they all result from different facets of the strange symmetries of E8. I find it rather extraordinary that of all the symmetries that mathematician’s have discovered, it is this exotic exceptional object that Nature has used to build the fabric of the universe. The symmetries are so intricate and complex that today’s announcement of the complete mapping of E8 is a significant moment in our exploration of symmetry."

For the feat, the team used a mix of theoretical mathematics and intricate computer programming to successfully map E8, (pronounced "E eight") which is an example of a Lie (pronounced "Lee") group. Lie groups were invented by the 19th century Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie to study symmetry.

Underlying any symmetrical object, such as a sphere, is a Lie group. Balls, cylinders or cones are familiar examples of symmetric three-dimensional objects. Today’s feat rests on the drive by mathematicians to study symmetries in higher dimensions. E8 is the symmetries of a geometric object that is 57-dimensional. E8 itself is 248-dimensional.

"E8 was discovered over a century ago, in 1887, and until now, no one thought the structure could ever be understood," said Prof Jeffrey Adams, Project Leader, at the University of Maryland. "This groundbreaking achievement is significant both as an advance in basic knowledge, as well as a major advance in the use of large scale computing to solve complicated mathematical problems."

"This is an exciting breakthrough," said Prof Peter Sarnak at Princeton University. "Understanding and classifying the representations of E8 and Lie groups has been critical to understanding phenomena in many different areas of mathematics and science including algebra, geometry, number theory, physics and chemistry. This project will be invaluable for future mathematicians and scientists."

The ways that E8 manifests itself as a symmetry group are called representations.

Because we all believe that Creation is a product of the Logos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 25, 2007 7:19 AM
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