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In physics, the electroweak theory presents a unified description of two of the four fundamental forces of nature: electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force. Although these two forces appear very different at everyday low energies, the theory models them as two different aspects of the same force. Above the unification energy, on the order of 102 GeV, they would merge into a single electroweak force.
Mathematically, the unification is accomplished under an SU(2) × U(1) gauge group. The corresponding gauge bosons are the photon of electromagnetism and the W and Z bosons of the weak force. In the Standard Model, the weak gauge bosons get their mass from the spontaneous symmetry breaking of the electroweak symmetry from SU(2) × U(1)Y to U(1)em, caused by the Higgs mechanism. The subscripts are used to indicate that these are different copies of U(1); the generator of U(1)em is given by Q = Y/2 + I3, where Y is the generator of U(1)Y (called the hypercharge), and I3 is one of the SU(2) generators (a component of isospin). The distinction between electromagnetism and the weak force arises because there is a (nontrivial) linear combination of Y and I3 that vanishes for the Higgs boson (it is an eigenstate of both Y and I3, so the coefficients may be taken as −I3 and Y): U(1)em is defined to be the group generated by this linear combination, and is unbroken because it doesn't interact with the Higgs.
For contributions to the unification of the weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam, and Steven Weinberg were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979.
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