The symmetry breaking accompanying the formation of crystals and magnetic domains has formed the base of a central concept of particle physics.

The symmetry-breaking accompanying the formation of crystals and magnetic domains has formed the base of a central concept of particle physics.

Project (2018-)

Concepts from Mesoscopic Physics in Particle Physics: A Success Story

Particle physics and mesoscopic physics are two major fields of contemporary physics and deal respectively with the sub-nuclear scale and the mesoscale, the size domain between the bacterium and the atom. In spite of the large difference in size, energy scale and nature of the “elementary” entities that separates it from particle physics, mesoscopic physics has begun in the 1950s to concretely provide methods, concepts, and physical pictures instrumental for the resolution of important problems in particle physics. This process was made possible by realizing that such entities, dissimilar in all the other respects, are nonetheless subject to analogous dynamical interactions, and has thereby set in an epistemic flow, in the direction counter to the traditional one, through which the complex contributes to explain the more “fundamental” levels of physical reality.

In the present project I investigate from a historical-epistemological perspective what I consider the inaugurating and systematic instance of this cross-fertilization process: the concept of spontaneous symmetry breaking. To do that I have adopted an archaeological approach, as it were, which reconstructs the heuristic development of the concept from its prehistory to the full-blown form, and isolates from it the factors that led its main contributor, the Japanese physicist Yoichiro Nambu, to its discovery. This investigation has brought to light a decade-long (1950–60) stratification featuring a series of re-descriptions of the objects and problems of one field in the conceptual/formal language of the other and vice which largely hinge on analogies, and in which elements peculiar to the Japanese material and cultural context played a pivotal role.  

 

The symmetry-breaking accompanying the formation of crystals and magnetic domains has formed the base of a central concept of particle physics.

The symmetry-breaking accompanying the formation of crystals and magnetic domains has formed the base of a central concept of particle physics. Image: Author.

I conceive this research as a part of a long-term program that focuses on how domains of science and disciplinary knowledges can diversify and recombine their respective conceptual contents and methods, abstractions and languages adopted, dialectically undoing and rebuilding new and different analogical relationships between these.