Frank Wilczek may very well turn out to be one of the most respected and famous scientists of our time. It wouldn’t be surprising if he adds two or three more Nobel prizes to his resume before he passes the baton. He’s not only one of the most innovative thinkers about our physical universe, but a very well read explainer of the deepest aspects of nature. In addition to his books and papers, he writes for a very lay audience explaining science to Wall Street Journal readers.
His Nobel in 2004, shared with David Gross and David Politzer, was for his work on quantum chromodynamics and asymptotic freedom. Apparently it’s a big deal in saving the idea of quantum field theory because of the forces that hold the most fundamental particles together. They found that tiny particles like quarks become less attached the closer they are together and the higher their energy levels. (That is a thoroughly non-scientific and possibly wrong way of explaining it, but may have some applications to personal relationships that I won’t go into.)
Since then, Wilczek’s fertile and innovative mind came up with some other ideas, probably considerably more out there than the idea of asymptotic freedom.
John Archibald Wheeler had a knack for naming things, like wormholes. Quarks was the contribution of Murray Gell-Mann. But Wilczek may top them with three names he gave his speculative ideas. Axions are now a leading candidate for the elementary particles that make up dark matter. They were named by Wilczek after a laundry detergent because of the way axions “cleaned some things up” in the mathematics of dark matter.
Anyons are another example of brilliant thinking and creative naming. Another proposed particle, in this case a quasiparticle (whatever that is), which have properties between fermions and bosons that operate only in two dimensional systems. They have less restrictions than the run of the mill fermions and bosons and can have partial charges. It seems anything goes with anyons. Which is why they are called anyons.
Time crystals are yet another example. A New Scientist article reports that this idea that Wilczek came up with five years ago may now have been proven in a lab. If so, it would break physical laws as it is a material that…