Visualizing Particles as Knots in Spacetime

Visualizing Knots in Spacetime

In Knot Physics, elementary fermions—like electrons and quarks—are topological defects in the spacetime manifold, which we often refer to as knots.1 We can think of spacetime as a 3-dimensional manifold that changes over time; as such, the fermions of Knot Physics are topological defects in that 3-dimensional manifold.

To understand their topology, we first consider the 2-dimensional version of these topological defects and then extend the concept to 3 dimensions. We will use a process known as topological surgery, where we take familiar manifolds and then cut and glue them to create the topological defects.

Surgery in 2 Dimensions

We begin with ℝ2, which is a 2-dimensional plane. Then we perform a surgical operation by removing a disk D2 from the plane. The result of that surgery is called ℝ2D2.

R2-D2
A disk D2 has been removed from the plane ℝ2, resulting in ℝ2D2. The yellow circle is the boundary where the disk has been removed. (ℝ2 extends infinitely, but here we represent it with a finite square.)

By removing the disk D2, we have created a boundary circle. The next step is to take every point on the boundary and attach it to the point that is diametrically opposite to it. It may seem like this would just close the hole that we created by removing the disk, but it actually creates something entirely new: the topological defect ℝ2#P2. The topological defect ℝ2#P2 is the 2-dimensional version of a fermion.

Every point on the boundary of the removed disk is attached to the point opposite to it, creating ℝ2#P2. To fully show the geometry, we would need to portray 4 dimensions, which of course we cannot do. So in this animation, we show a 3-dimensional projection.

After this surgery, the manifold no longer fits in 2 dimensions. ℝ2#P2 must be embedded in a space with at least 4 dimensions, otherwise the manifold would intersect itself.

One interesting feature of ℝ2#P2 is that a strip through the center has a ½ twist. As such, we could cut a strip from this manifold such that it is a Möbius strip.

We can consider “strips” of ℝ2#P2, each of which has a ½ twist where it passes through the center of the topological defect. (In this animation, we have switched from looking at a square region of the manifold to looking at a circular region, and we have removed the yellow boundary color from the center of the topological defect.)

Surgery in 3 Dimensions

We used surgery in 2 dimensions to create ℝ2#P2, the 2-dimensional version of the elementary fermions of Knot Physics. We now create the actual topology of fermions by extending the surgery operation to 3 dimensions.

We begin with ℝ3, a 3-dimensional space. Then we perform a surgical operation by removing a solid torus S1×D2 from ℝ3 to create a boundary torus. The result is ℝ3−(S1×D2).

torus
We remove a solid torus S1×D2 from ℝ3, resulting in ℝ3−(S1×D2). Note that the yellow torus is “hollow”: It is the boundary of the removed solid torus S1×D2. (ℝ3 extends infinitely, but here we represent it with a finite cube.)

We can think of the boundary torus as being made of many circles.

torus-boundary-circle
The hollow boundary torus is comprised of circles.

Previously, we used the boundary circle of ℝ2D2 to make ℝ2#P2. Now, we perform that same surgery on the circles of the boundary torus: We attach each point on each circle to the point that is diametrically opposite to it. The result of that surgery is ℝ3#(S1 × P2). After this surgery, the manifold must be embedded in a space with at least 5 dimensions; anything less than that would cause the manifold to intersect itself.

For each circle on the boundary torus, every point is attached to the point opposite to it, creating ℝ3#(S1 × P2). Because the surgery occurs in 5 dimensions, (x1,x2,x3,x4,x5), we hide and show different dimensions to see various features of the surgery.

On the left, we show the dimensions (x1,x2,x3). We see the boundary torus of ℝ3−(S1×D2) contracting as we attach each point on each circle of the torus to the point that is diametrically opposite to it.

On the right, instead of showing dimension x3, we show dimension x4. We see a slice of ℝ3−(S1×D2), a plane with two disks removed. Each point on the boundary circles attaches to the point that is diametrically opposite to it, creating a pair of topological defects. This occurs for every boundary circle on the boundary torus.

By performing this topological surgery in 3 dimensions, we have created the topology of a fermion: ℝ3#(S1 × P2).

Topological Defects in Spacetime

In Knot Physics, spacetime is a 4-dimensional manifold (3 spatial dimensions + 1 time dimension) embedded in a 6-dimensional space (5 spatial dimensions + 1 time dimension). We can think of spacetime as a 3-dimensional manifold that moves around inside of a 5-dimensional space. 

We can imagine sitting in the 5-dimensional space and performing surgery on the 3 spatial dimensions of the spacetime manifold. If we were to cut and glue the spacetime manifold in the way that we described here, we would create topological defects of type ℝ3#(S1 × P2). These topological defects are fermions—like electrons and quarks.2,3

Notes

1. The mathematical theory of knots has a specific definition of the word “knot”: an embedding of an n-dimensional sphere Sn in an n+2-dimensional sphere Sn+2. In Knot Physics, we often use the term “knot” instead of “topological defect” for simplicity.

2. We have described the topology of an elementary fermion by cutting and gluing a 3-manifold. In reality, fermions are created and annihilated by an entirely different process, but this cutting and gluing process is a helpful way of understanding fermion topology.

3. We have discussed the topology of fermions, specifically the homeomorphism class, which is ℝ3#(S1 × P2). This type of topological defect can have different embeddings and geometric properties. The variety of embeddings and geometric properties explains the variety of fermion types.


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Cliff Ellgen

Cliff Ellgen graduated from Caltech in 1999 with a degree in mathematics. He has been contemplating Knot Physics, a geometric unification theory, for more than fifteen years. Since August of 2014, he has been collaborating with Garrett Biehle, who received his Ph.D. from Caltech in astrophysics under advisors Kip Thorne and Roger Blandford.

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