Fact-checking particle physics in the ‘Ghostbusters’ trailer with a real physicist

Kristin Wiig will play badass particle physicist Erin Gilbert in the new ghost hunters, coming to theaters in July. In the official trailer, which was released on Thursday, fellow ectoplasm blaster Abby Yates, played by Melissa McCarthy, tells her, “Erin, nobody’s better at quantum physics than you,” as the camera pans a pan across a whiteboard covered in a convoluted mess of complicated images. – looking for equations. Ultimately, these are not only believable but also scientifically ambitious, according to experimental physicist and professor Elizabeth Beise, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland, who helped Reverse fact-check the Wiig whiteboard.

“It all makes sense, as far as I can tell.” Beise said. “They probably had someone write something that sounded pretty close to the truth.”

It’s obvious, she points out, that Wiig’s character estimates the decay rate of protons — an area that has eluded top physicists for years. “It’s kind of a hot topic,” she said. “If proton decay were actually observed experimentally, it would be very, very significant. “

This, of course, is evident from the equation at the bottom center of the chart, which says “Proton Decay”.

To the right of this equation, however, is a Feynman diagram, which is how physicists represent mathematical expressions describing the behavior of subatomic particles. “It’s all pretty sensible,” Beise says. “This particular little drawing here actually violates a very fundamental symmetry of nature. That’s why proton decay would be so exciting.

“Here,” she explains, “the combination of you, youand D represents a proton; the Greek pi with the subscript zero represents a “bound quark-antiquark state”.

To the right of the Feynman diagram are several other constants that a physicist would recognize. The Greek alpha above, Beise explains, is a well-known parameter called the fine structure constant, which tells you about the strength of electromagnetism. Below, the Greek alpha with a hint s tells you about the “strong interaction” – the nuclear force between two quarks. On the far left of the whiteboard, under the heading “Couplings”, is a series of gs, suggesting that she “must speculate on additional particles”.

All of this suggests that Wiig’s character isn’t just a legit particle physicist — she’s a particle physicist trying to shake up the scientific community.

“People have been looking for a long time to observe the decay of protons, and there are limits that are very astronomical,” says Beise. “If there’s physics out there that we’re not aware of, [this is] what a theoretical physicist would try to do – look and see if there is a mechanism of something going on in the universe that would indicate a signal.

Proton decay has eluded scientists for decades, Beise says, explaining that such experiments often take place in a huge water reservoir detector, such as the Super-Kamiokande under Mount Ikeno in Japan. Very generally, these experiments consist of a long wait to see if the signal from a decaying proton – the charged positron in the Feynman diagram – will manifest as a flash of light.

But the most important part of the whiteboard isn’t an equation at all — it’s a website. At the top center is a series of “variables” that spell out the ParanormalStudiesLab.com website, which leads to a video by MIT particle physicist James Maxwell, Ph.D., explaining that much of the science at which he contributed ghost hunters has to do with creating – and now it all makes sense – the quintessential ghost hunting tool known as proton bundle.

Later in the video, Maxwell goes on to corroborate Beise’s assessments by explaining that a colleague at MIT had worked closely with the filmmakers “to ensure that the blackboards and all the papers you see scattered around the lab are correct”.

It seems that scientific theories to back up ghost weapons may exist – at least hypothetically. Whether they could ever be applied IRL remains to be seen – Maxwell points out that it would be difficult to achieve the large-scale science required for a cyclotron on top of a backpack – but for a film that deals with hypotheticals and phantom mud, the details are remarkably and commendably sound.

“I don’t know if the equations are right or not,” says Beise. “It feels real to me.”

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