Man has always strived to define complex natural laws. Sometimes the definitions are limiting, while other times, they are the basis for further research that enables us to understand and appreciate the simple realities within which we exist.
Physicists have long suspected that the fundamental reality that we observe in our daily life spring out of the properties of octonions, which are eight-dimensional numbers. A discovery by Cohl Furey from Canada strengthens the suspicion and actually lends credence to the theory.
Fundamental physics and pure math
It was in 2014 that Furey went to Pennsylvania State University to meet Murat Günaydin, who was employed as a physics professor. Furey had found a way to expand the theories proposed by Günaydin, something that could leave a lasting impact in the field of physics and our understanding of the world around us.
Please watch this video on octonions and particle physics:
In 1973, Günaydin discovered that a surprising link existed between the strong force and octonions. However, even though the theory attracted a fair bit of attention early on, interest in the same kind of died out among physicists, since most were obsessed with unraveling the mysteries of the Standard Model of particle physics. Only a few independent researchers continued to look into the relationship between octonions and the strong force. And one of them was Cohl Furey, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo.
Furey was convinced that the fundamental laws of nature were defined by octonions. As such, she kept obsessing over the subject, spending days and nights trying to solve complex equations that would provide the answers she sought. One day in 2014, she had found her answer — Furey had successfully built an octonionic model of both the electromagnetic and strong force. It was to discuss her new findings that she had visited Günaydin four years ago.
She found it very difficult to explain her discovery to the professor. And finally, when she succeeded in communicating it with Günaydin, he advised her to give up her interest in octonions and pursue other topics. He felt that further research into the area could isolate her from mainstream physics in the same way that doors were closed for him because of his study in the field.
However, Furey has persisted with octonions and over time, she has attracted a fair bit of attention from physicists all over the world. Her online videos on the subject have played a big role in generating interest in her work.
“She has found some intriguing links… It’s certainly worth pursuing, in my view. Whether it will ultimately be the way the Standard Model is described, it’s hard to say. If it were, it would qualify for all the superlatives — revolutionary, and so on,” Wired quotes Michael Duff, a string theory pioneer.
Octonions and string theory
The octonion number system was discovered by an Irish mathematician named John T. Graves in 1843. And today, many physicists believe that octonions might hold the key to describing string theory, which could provide a unified explanation of all nature.
“At present, 10-dimensional space based on octonions is considered by string theorists as a likely candidate for describing the universe. This is speculative, but if it turns out to be correct, matter and force particles will be modeled by those curious eight-component octonions discovered by Graves 171 years ago,” Peter Lynch, professor at University College in Dublin, writes in an article in The Irish Times.
Though an accurate description of string theory based on octonions is yet to be proposed, Cohl Furey’s work may play a significant role in realizing that goal.