Thursday, 30 January 2020

Historical reminiscences on Skyrmions

There's a new paper on the arXiv today by Ian Aitchison, giving an historical account of the development of Skyrme's nonlinear field theory for nucleons and nuclei.  It explains some of the motivations - in terms of a desire to consider boson fields as more basic than fermion fields, with the latter being derived from the former; a desire not to have point-like particles; and a desire for conservation to arise from structural properties of an object rather than a symmetry.  In that last point he was apparently (as explained in the paper) inspired by William Thompson (Lord Kelvin), who was much enthralled by vortices in liquids and the emergence of a conserved quantity (Wirbelbewegung) and who came up with a vortex theory of atoms as a result.

The paper is quite informal, so I'd say it's fairly accessible to interested physicists, but with parenthetical remarks in it like "(this is essentially a consequence of the hedgehog ansatz)" it's clearly not quite targeted at the lay-person.  An enjoyable read for me to start the day with before getting on with marking assignments.  

Here's a picture from the paper, of a machine to make smoke rings to study the vortices that so interested Kelvin.  

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