An Interview with Author Tom Moore
In a nutshell, what is the Standard Model, and why is it important?
The Standard Model is the best theory we have currently for understanding the nature of elementary particles and how they interact. It describes essentially all that we know about subatomic physics. The Standard Model and the theory of general relativity together comprise the foundation of all known physics.
How has our understanding of the Standard Model changed recently?
The discovery of the Higgs particle in 2012 filled in the last missing piece of the Standard Model and endorsed what was one of the more speculative parts of the theory. This was an enormous step forward.
What is at the forefront of research in particle physics today?
Though the Standard Model has been spectacularly successful in predicting experimental results, physicists are also aware that it is not a complete model, partly because of internal consistency problems, partly because it has no place for dark matter or dark energy, and partly because we cannot connect it with general relativity. But to move forward, we need data. Physicists are currently working very hard to push the model to its limits and find phenomena that are inconsistent with the Standard Model so that we can move forward.
What would you predict is the next big discovery in particle physics?
Who knows? I am personally hoping for a discovery that illuminates the nature of dark matter and/or actually measures the mass of a neutrino instead of just putting limits on that mass. But any well-established violation of the Standard Model would be a big and important discovery. Experiments are proceeding on all these possible fronts.
For students, what is the prime motivation for studying this field?
The Standard Model is one of the foundations of current physics, illuminating everything having to do with elementary particle physics, which is perhaps motivation enough. But the Standard Model is also fascinating in the way that it extracts surprising and far-reaching implications from a set of very simple symmetry principles. Its construction reflects some of the best theoretical thinking about physics in the middle of the 20th century and provides the framework on which future theories must be built.
What made you want to write this book, and what have you learned from writing it?
I have been teaching an advanced undergraduate course in particle physics regularly since the discovery of the Higgs boson and needed a more accessible and up-to-date textbook than the available options. I also strongly believe in the principle that undergraduates learn advanced theory better when they work it out for themselves (something I learned long ago when teaching general relativity), and no existing text supported that approach. One of the joys of writing a textbook is that it compels one to think deeply about the material and become familiar with the latest results. Writing this book greatly increased my understanding of the details of the Standard Model and the creative thinking behind it.
What will be the measure by which you gauge this new book’s success?
My hope is that advanced undergraduate students find the book accessible, exciting, and empowering. If professors find this book useful in engaging and empowering their students, I would consider it to be successful. If it helps inspire and enable even a few students to continue on in particle physics and fruitfully push the field forward, I would feel that I have contributed something enduring and meaningful to the discipline I love.