Nuclear Sciences & Technologies

EPJ H Highlight - How theoretical particle physicists made history with the Standard Model

Luciano Maiani, Pucci de Stefano, and their child Camilla at the Theory Division picnic, CERN 1985.

The personal recollections of a physicist involved in developing a reference model in particle physics, called the Standard Model, particularly in Italy

Understanding the Universe requires first understanding its building blocks, a field covered by particle physics. Over the years, an elegant model of particle physics, dubbed the Standard Model, has emerged as the main point of reference for describing the fundamental components of matter and their interactions. The Standard Model is not confined to particle physics; it also provides us a guide to understanding phenomena that take place in the Universe at large, down to the first moments of the Big Bang, and it sets the stage for a novel cosmic problem, namely the identification of dark matter. Placing the Standard Model in a historical context sheds valuable light on how the theory came to be. In a remarkable paper published in EPJ H, Luciano Maiani from the University of Rome and the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, Italy, shares his personal recollections with Luisa Bonolis from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany. During an interview recorded over several days in March 2016, Maiani outlines the role of those researchers who were instrumental in the evolution of theoretical particle physics in the years when the Standard Theory was developed.

The paper also features, in the background, the remarkable development of Italian particle physics in the second half of the 20th century. It refers in particular to the role of great scientific personalities, e.g. Bruno Touschek, the Austrian physicist who proposed and built the first electron-positron collider in the early sixties, and Raoul Gatto, an Italian theoretical physicist known for his work on the symmetries of subnuclear particles. Maiani also shares his memories of Nicola Cabibbo. In a fundamental work written while working at the Particle Physics Laboratory, CERN, Geneva, Switzerland, Cabibbo unraveled the mystery of the weak decays of strange particles, a solution at the basis of the unified theories and at the heart of the Standard Theory.

Lastly, Maiani recounts the co-discovery of the GIM mechanism with Sheldon Glashow and John Iliopoulos in 1970. They proposed a fourth kind of quark—namely the charm quark, which would be discovered a few years later—that ultimately provided a solid basis for the unification of the weak and electromagnetic interactions of quarks and leptons .

“The Charm of Theoretical Physics (1958-1993)” Oral History Interview by L. Maiani and L. Bonolis (2017), European Physical Journal H, DOI 10.1140/epjh/e2017-80040-9

C. De Saint Jean and G. Moutiers
ISSN: 2491-9292 (Electronic Edition)

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