This past summer, W&M Physics rising senior Patrick King was the inaugural recipient of the first Dorothy Pruitt Babcock Memorial Research Scholarship. This scholarship enabled Patrick to conduct research in theoretical particle physics along with Associate Professor Joshua Erlich.
Patrick's project was to investigate possible ways to explain the carriers of the fundamental forces in nature by invoking the idea that there may be hidden "extra dimensions" of space-time. In the Standard Model of particle physics, these force carriers (the photon, the gluons, and the W and Z bosons) arise due to symmetries in nature. These symmetries can be described mathematically using group theory, and are generically known as "gauge symmetries". The concept here is that the same force carriers might arise from a simpler set of symmetries (a reduced set of gauge groups), if nature also has extra dimensions. The Standard Model would then arise as a low-energy "effective theory" of this extra-dimensioned universe.
Patrick investigated a variety of such models, and was able to show that they could not be made to predict the observed force carriers. He was also able to show mathematically why this was the case.
Patrick is continuing research with Professor Erlich this year, as the basis for his honors thesis. He is working on modeling high-temperature superconductors using ideas that have emerged from string theory (the quantum theory of massless vibrating strings). Patrick is a dual physics and math major, and completed his honors research work in math last year under the supervision of Prof. Junping Shi of the Math department.